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Detecting atrial fibrillation while there’s still time to act

Taking a reading using OMRON's Complete, a tabletop blood pressure monitor that can measure blood pressure and record an electrocardiogram at the same time.Credit: OMRON Healthcare

Frequently a precursor to stroke or heart failure, a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation, goes undetected until it has progressed to an advanced stage. But atrial fibrillation, which is characterized by a quivering or erratic heartbeat, is treatable, especially if it is picked up early.

“Atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for heart failure and stroke,” explains Archanna Mohangoo, a medical marketing manager at OMRON Healthcare Europe in Hoofddorp, in the Netherlands. “However, if you can detect it at an early stage, with adequate treatment, the risk of stroke can be reduced by around 66%.”

The trouble is that atrial fibrillation often flies under the radar in its early stages. “Between 50–87% of people with the initial phase of atrial fibrillation don’t experience any symptoms,” says Karel Herberigs, Medical Marketing Group Manager at OMRON. “So they have this very severe condition with a large cardiovascular risk, but they’re oblivious to it.”

Often it is picked up in the late stages when there are limited treatment options. “Atrial fibrillation is often detected during hospitalization because of complications,” says Mohangoo.

The onset of serious cerebro-cardiovascular disease caused by atrial fibrillation is a major problem for society through lost productivity and healthcare costs. And because the likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age, it will become a growing burden as populations age. “The European Society of Cardiology predicts that the prevalence of atrial fibrillation will double in the next decade,” says Herberigs.

The usual way to detect atrial fibrillation is to record the electrocardiogram (ECG) during an episode and check the waveform. But, in the early stages of atrial fibrillation, it is often difficult to record because it usually begins suddenly and stops within minutes or hours. This is called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. As the condition becomes chronic, the frequency of occurrence increases.

Recording ECG at home

As early detection of atrial fibrillation is crucial for preventing the onset of stroke and heart failure, researchers at OMRON Healthcare have been developing devices with atrial fibrillation detection that allow monitoring at home. This new line of product development builds upon OMRON Healthcare’s existing expertise in blood pressure monitors.

OMRON's first blood pressure monitor, released to the market in 1973.Credit: OMRON Healthcare

With its headquarters in Kyoto, Japan, the medical device company OMRON Healthcare, a subsidiary of OMRON Corporation, has a 50-year history in developing home monitors, which allow people to check for high blood pressure, or hypertension.

“In 1973, OMRON provided the first blood pressure monitor to the market. That was the beginning of our cardiovascular business, which aims to provide preventive medical care for cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases.” says Herberigs. “It has now provided more than 350 million devices to more than 110 countries and regions.”

Similar to atrial fibrillation, hypertension is a big risk factor for stroke and heart failure and the two conditions are often present simultaneously.

“About 60–80% of people with atrial fibrillation also have hypertension,” says Herberigs. “Because the two conditions are closely related and are both huge risk factors for developing stroke or other cardiovascular events, it makes sense to check for both at the same time.” Mohangoo agrees: “If you could measure two risk factors for stroke at the same time, that would really reduce the risk of stroke.”

Two values in one device

With this goal, OMRON Healthcare has developed a new device to include technology that enables people to simultaneously monitor their blood pressure and check for signs of atrial fibrillation.

OMRON Complete, a blood pressure monitor with an ECG recording function that can be synced with a smartphone app.Credit: Omron Healthcare

In 2019, the team launched the first upper arm blood pressure monitor with an ECG recording function, ‘Complete’. This is a tabletop blood pressure monitor for home use that can measure blood pressure and record an ECG at the same time. Furthermore, the ECG being measured is displayed in real time, and after the measurement, it is analysed with a smartphone app to check the risk of atrial fibrillation. Measurement records can be easily shared with doctors via the app.

The KardiaMobile Portable ECG.Credit: Omron Healthcare

OMRON Healthcare is also conducting clinical studies with Complete in many countries to substantiate the clinical benefit of home ECG screening and the company has provided devices to more than 30 countries and regions globally to support early atrial fibrillation detection.

Additionally, in selected countries OMRON offers mobile devices that allow easy recording of an ECG and checking of atrial fibrillation risk.

The smallest, KardiaMobile Portable ECG, is half the size of a credit card and allows you to record an ECG by simply touching the electrodes with the fingers. The ECG measured with KardiaMobile is also displayed in real time on a smartphone, similar to "Complete", and when the measurement is completed, it is recorded on the smartphone app and can be used for medical treatment.

It was designed to perform measurements in just 30 seconds, with the goal of allowing people to take an ECG whenever they feel the slightest abnormality.

Providing preventative care

While the devices are potentially empowering patients, they are meant to be used along with professional medical advice.

“These devices are designed to make health monitoring and medical care easy, accurate, and accessible not only for patients, but also for healthcare professionals. We want to empower patients to make informed lifestyle changes that might help prevent complications. They also provide doctors with the insights and knowledge they need to develop personalized treatment plans for patients,” says Mohangoo, who emphasizes that this is exactly what OMRON’s vision is about, contributing to building a healthier society.

OMRON's devices are intended to be used in conjunction with professional medical advice.Credit: OMRON Healthcare

Even more effective than managing atrial fibrillation and hypertension would be to prevent these conditions from occurring in the first place. Helping prevent the development of the conditions is the ultimate aim of OMRON Healthcare, which has a strong emphasis on prevention, says Herberigs.

“In the majority of cases both atrial fibrillation and hypertension are preventable,” he explains. ”We do everything in our power to increase awareness and activate people into taking action. Our goal is to prevent these conditions — not just to treat patients, but to make sure that people don’t become patients.”

OMRON’s driving vision is to free people up to live their lives to the fullest. “That’s why we are broadening our focus from hypertension to cardiovascular conditions like atrial fibrillation. It’s all about empowering people to take care of themselves,” says Mohangoo.

OMRON is conducting a global campaign to raise awareness of atrial fibrillation, find out more at OMRON Healthcare.

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