Category Archives: Atrial Fibrillation

A Guide To Using Apple Watch and Kardia ECG devices-What They Can and Can’t Do

Many patients (and perhaps physicians) are confused as to how best to utilize personal ECG devices. I received this question illustrating such confusion from a reader recently:

I first came across your website a year ago during persistent angina attacks, and returning now due to increasing episodes of symptoms akin to Afib. I bought a Kardia 2 yrs ago for the angina episodes, and looking to buy the Apple Series 4 for the Afib, as I want to try a wearable for more constant monitoring. What I would greatly appreciate if you had a basic guide for both the Kardia & Apple devices, specifically when and how to best employ them for unstable angina and detecting undiagnosed Afib. As in, what can I as a patient provide to you as a doctor for diagnosis in advance of a formal visit. I’m a US Iraq vet medically retired in the UK, and most of my concerns get dismissed out of hand as “anxiety”, not sure why they thought a stent would cure my anxiety though  

Personal, Wearable ECG Devices Won’t Diagnose Angina (or Heart Attacks)

First. please understand that none of these devices have any significant role in the management of angina. Angina, which is chest/arm/jaw discomfort due to a poor blood supply to the heart muscle cannot be reliably diagnosed by the single lead ECG recording provided by the Apple Watch, the Kardia Band or the Kardia mobile ECG device. Even a medical-grade 12 lead ECG doesn’t reliably diagnose angina and we rely on a constellation of factors from the patient’s history to advanced testing to determine how best to manage and diagnose angina.

Second, as you are having episodes “akin to Afib”, all of these devices can be helpful in determining what your cardiac rhythm is at the time of the episodes if they last long enough for you to make an ECG recording.

The single lead ECG recording you can make from the Apple Watch, the Kardia Band and from the Kardia mobile device can very reliably tell us what the cardiac rhythm was when you were feeling symptoms.

The algorithms of these devices do a good job of determining if the rhythm Is atrial fibrillation. Also, if the rhythm is totally normal they are good at determining normality.

However, sometimes extra or premature beats confuse the algorithms resulting in an unclassified tracing and (rarely) an inaccurate declaration of afib

These tracings can be reviewed by a competent cardiologist to sort out what the rhythm really is.

In all of these cases, having an actual recording of the cardiac rhythm at the time of symptoms is immensely helpful to your doctor or cardiologist in determining what is causing your problems.

My recommendation, therefore, would be to make several recordings at the time of your symptoms. Print them out and carefully label the print-out with exactly what you were feeling when it was recorded and present these to the doctor who will be reviewing your case.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (see here), my patients’ use of Kardia with the KardiaPro online service has in many cases taken the place of expensive and inconvenient long term monitoring devices.

Case Example-Diagnosing Rare And Brief Attacks Of Atrial Fibrillation

I recently saw a patient who I think perfectly demonstrates how useful these devices can be for clarifying what is causing intermittent episodes of palpitations-irregular, pounding, or racing heart beats.

She was lying on a sofa one day when she suddenly noted her heart “pumping fast” and with irregularity. The symptoms last for about an hour. She had noticed this occurred about once a year occurring out of the blue.

Her PCP ordered a long term monitor, a stress test and an echocardiogram.

The monitor showed some brief episodes of what I would term atrial tachycardia but not atrial fibrillation but the patient did not experience one of her once per year hour long episodes of racing heart during the recording. Thus, we had not yet solved the mystery of the prolonged bouts of racing heart.

She was referred to me for evaluation and I recommended she purchase an Alivecor device and sign up for the KardiaPro service which allows me to view all of her recordings online. The combination of the device plus one year of the KardiaPro service costs $120.

She purchased the device and made some occasional recordings when she felt fine and we documented that these were identified as normal by Kardia. For months nothing else happened.

Then one day in April she had her typical prolonged symptom of a racing heart and she made the recording below (She was actually away from home but had the Kardia device with her.)

When she called the office I logged into my KardiaPro account and pulled up her recordings and lo and behold the Kardia device was correct and she was in atrial fibrillation at a rate of 113 BPM.

With the puzzle of her palpitations solved we could now address proper treatment.

Continuous Monitoring for Abnormal Rhythms

Finally, let’s discuss the wearables ability to serve as a monitor and alert a patient when they are in an abnormal rhythm but free of any symptoms.

My reader’s intent was to acquire a device for “constant monitoring”:

I’m looking to buy the Apple Series 4 for the Afib, as I want to try a wearable for more constant monitoring.

This capability is theoretically available with Apple Watch 4’s ECG and with the Kardia Band (using SmartRhythm) which works with Apple Watch Series 1-3.

However, I have not been impressed with Apple Watch’s accuracy in this area (see here and here) and would not at this point rely solely on any device to reliably alert patients to silent or asymptomatic atrial fibrillation.

In theory, all wearables that track heart rate and alert the wearer if the resting heart rates goes above 100 BPM have the capability of detecting atrial fibrillation. If you receive an alert of high HR from a non ECG-capable wearable you can then record an ECG with the Kardia mobile ECG to see if it really is atrial fibrillation.

At 99$, the Kardia is the most cost-effective way of confirming atrial fibrillation for consumers.

I hope this post adds some clarity to the often confusing field of personal and wearable ECG devices.

Electroanatomically Yours,

-ACP

Can The Apple Watch Or Kardia ECG Monitor Detect Heart Attacks?

The skeptical cardiologist recently received this email from a reader:

With the new Apple Watch that’s out now, people have suggested my husband (who had a heart attack at 36) should get it since it could detect a heart attack. But I keep remembering what you said – that these devices can’t detect heart attacks and that Afib isn’t related to a heart attack most of the time – is that still the case? I don’t really know how to explain to people that it can’t do this, since absolutely everyone believes it does.

The answer is a resounding and unequivocal NO!

If we are using the term heart attack to mean what doctors call a myocardial infarction (MI) there should be no expectation that any wearable or consumer ECG product can reliably diagnose a heart attack.

The Apple Watch even in its latest incarnation and with the ECG feature and with rhythm monitoring activated is incapable of detecting a myocardial infarction.

Similarly, although the AliveCor Kardia ECG monitor is superb at diagnosing rhythm abnormalities it is not capable of detecting an MI

To make this even clearer note that when you record an ECG on the Apple Watch it intermittently flashes the following warning:

 

Note: “Apple Watch never checks for heart attacks”

How did such this idea take root in the consciousness of so many Americans?

Perhaps this article in 9-5 Mac had something to do with it

The article begins
Scott Killian never imagined his Apple Watch might save his life, but that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago when he had a heart attack in the middle of the night. Killian recently shared his personal experience with 9to5Mac, and the details of his story are absolutely amazing.
In reality,  the man received an alarm that his resting heart rate was high at night. Apparently he also was experiencing chest pain and went to an ER where a cardiac enzyme was elevated.  Subsequently he underwent testing that revealed advanced coronary artery disease and he had a bypass operation. 
Even if we assume all the details of this story are accurate it is absolutely not a case of Apple Watch diagnosing an MI.
 
A high resting heart rate is not neccessarily an indicator of an MI and most MIs are not characterized by high heart rates.  We have had the technology with wearables to monitor resting heart rate for some time and no one has ever suggested this can be used to detect MI.
 
The rate of false alarms is so high and the rate of failure to diagnose MI so low that this is a useless measure and should not provide any patient reassurance.
 
The writer of this story and the editors at 9-5 Mac should be ashamed of this misinformation.
 
Several other news sources have needlessly muddied the water on this question including Healthline and Fox News:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Fox News article entitled “Could The Apple Watch Series 4 save you from a heart attack” quotes a non-physician who suggests that AW can detect early signs of a heart attack:
 

In clear cut cases the Apple Watch could make the difference between life and death,” says Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Because you wear the Apple Watch at all times, it can detect an early sign of a stroke or a heart attack, and that early indication is critical, he says.

And the Healthline article on the new Apple Watch also incorrectly implies it can diagnose MI:

The device, which was unveiled last week, has an electrocardiogram (ECG) app that can detect often overlooked heart abnormalities that could lead to a heart attack.

And if you are felled by a heart problem, the fall detector built into the Apple Watch Series 4 could alert medical professionals that you need help

Fox News and Healthline should modify their published articles to correct the misinformation they have previously provided.

And it is still true that  although both Apple Watch and Kardia can diagnose atrial fibrillation the vast majority of the time acute heart attacks are not associated with atrial fibrillation.

Readers, please spread the word far and wide to friends and family-Apple Watch cannot detect heart attacks!

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Apple Heart Study: Despite The Ballyhoo, No Benefits Demonstrated, Harms Not Measured

The results of the Apple Heart Study, were presented this morning at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions amid intense media scrutiny. The AHS is a “prospective, single arm pragmatic study” which had the primary objective of measuring the proportion of participants with an irregular pulse detected by the Apple Watch who turn out to have atrial fibrillation on subsequent ambulatory ECG patch monitoring.

 

I and over 400,000 other Apple Watch owners participated in the AH study by downloading the Apple Heart Study app and self-verifying our eligibility. 

My assessment is that we have learned little to nothing from the AHS that we didn’t already know. I’m also concerned that many patients suffered anxiety or unnecessary testing after being referred to urgent care centers, emergency departments, cardiologists or primary care providers and the results of these inappropriate referrals may never be determined.

Here is the study in a nutshell:

  1. Participants enrolled by submitting  information using the iPhone Heart Study app and none of their isubmitted nformation was verified.
  2. An irregular pulse notification was issued to 0.5% of participants who were then  contacted and asked to participate in a Telehealth visit with a doctor (who we will call Dr. Appleseed)
  3. Only 945 of the 2161 who received a pulse notification participated in the first study visit.
  4. Interestingly, Dr. Appleseed was empowered to send participants to the ER if they had symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting/losing consciousness) It is not clear how many were sent to the ER and what their outcomes were but this flow diagram shows that 20 were excluded from further testing due to “emergent symptoms.”

  5. Another 174 participants were excluded after finding out at the first visit that they had a history of afib or aflutter and 90 due to current anticoagulant use (both of these factors were exclusion criteria which gives us an idea of how accurate the information was at the time of participant entry.)
  6. After all these exclusions only 658 ECG monitor patches were shipped to the participants of which only 450 were returned and analyzed.
  7. This means of the original 2161 participants who were notified of pulse irregularity, the study only reports data on 450 or 21%. Such a low rate of participation makes any conclusions from the study suspect.
  8. Of the 450 ECG patches analyzed only 34% were classified as having afib. Only 25% of this afib lasted longer than 24 hours.
  9. After the patch data was analyzed, patients had a second Telehealth visit with Dr. Appleseed who reviewed the findings with the patient. Per the initial published description of the methods of the AHS (see here) Dr. Appleseed  would tell the participant to head to the ER if certain abnormalities were found on the ECG.

Per the study description (apple heart study), Dr. Appleseed recommended a visit to the PCP for “AF or any other arrhythmia” detected by the patch:”

“If AF or any other arrhythmias have been detected in reviewing the ambulatory ECG monitor data, or if there are other non-urgent symptom identified by the study physician during the video visit that may need further clinical evaluation, the Study Telehealth Provider directs the participant to his or her primary health care provider”

At this point it seems likely that a lot of participants were instructed to go see their PCPs. Because as someone who looks at a lot of 2 week ambulatory ECG recordings I know that is the rare recording that does not show “other arrhythmias.”

Even more distressing is the call that participants would have received based on “the initial technical read:” I’m presuming this “technical read” was by a technician and not by a cardiologist. In my experience, many initial reads from long term monitors are inaccurate.

“If the initial technical read identifies abnormalities that require urgent attention (ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, high-degree heart block, long pauses, or sustained and very rapid ventricular rates), then the participant is contacted immediately and directed to local emergency care or advised how to seek local emergency care.”

I wonder how many  ERs had AHS participants show up saying they had been told they had a life-threatening arrhythmia? How much down stream testing with possible invasive, life-threatening procedures such as cardiac catheterization were performed in response to these notifications?

Overall, these findings add nothing to previous studies using wearable PPG technology and they certainly don’t leave me with any confidence that the  Apple Watch is accurately automatically detecting atrial fibrillation.

Was more harm than good done by the Apple Heart Study?

We will never know. The strength of this study, the large number of easily recruited participants is also its Achilles heel. We don’t know that any information about the participants is correct and we don’t have any validated follow up of the outcomes. In particular, I’m concerned that we don’t know what happened to all of these individuals who were sent to various health care providers thinking there might be something seriously wrong. 

Perhaps Apple and Stanford need to review the first dictum of medicine: Primum Non Nocere, First Do No Harm.

Tachogramophobically Yours,

-ACP

Apple Watch Fails To Notify Patient Of 3 Hour Episode Of Rapid Atrial Fibrillation

Apple claims that its Apple Watch can detect atrial fibrillation (AF) and appropriately notify the wearer when it suspects AF.

This claim comes with many caveats on their website:

Apparently it needs to record 5 instances of irregular heart beat characteristic of atrial fibrillation over at least 65 minutes before making the notification.

This feature utilizes the watch’s optical heart sensors, is available  in Apple Watch Series 1 or later and has nothing to do with the Apple Watch 4 ECG recording capability which I described in detail in my prior post.

Failure To Detect AF

A patient of mine with known persistent AF informed me yesterday that she had gone into AF and remained in it for nearly 3 hours with heart rates over 100 beats per minute and had received no notification. She confirmed the atrial fibrillation with both AW4 recordings and AliveCor Kardia recordings while she was in it.

The watch faithfully recorded sustained heart rates up to 140 BPM but never alerted her of this even though the rate was consistently over her high heart rate trigger of 100 BPM.

The patient had set up the watch appropriately to receive notifications of an irregular rhythm.

Reviewing her tracings from both the AW4 and the Kardia this was easily diagnosed AF with a rapid ventricular response.

What does Apple tell us about the accuracy of the Apple Watch AF notification algorithm? All we know is the unpublished , non peer-reviewed data they themselves collected and presented to the FDA.

From this link on their website Apple says:

In a study of 226 participants aged 22 years or older who had received an AFib notification while wearing Apple Watch and subsequently wore an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for approximately 1 week, 41.6% (94/226) had AFib detected by ECG patch. During concurrent wear of Apple Watch and an ECG patch, 57/226 participants received an AFib notification. Of those, 78.9% (45/57) showed concordant AFib on the ECG patch and 98.2 % (56/57) showed AFib and other clinically relevant arrhythmias. These results demonstrate that, while in the majority of cases the notification will accurately represent the presence of AFib, in some instances, a notification may indicate the presence of an arrhythmia other than AFib. No serious device adverse effects were observed

This tells us that about 80% of notifications are likely to be Afib whereas 20% will not be Afib. It is unclear what the “other clinically relevant arrhythmias”  might be. If I had to guess I would suspect PVCS or PACS which are usually benign.

If 20% of the estimated 10 million Apple Watch wearers are getting false positive notifications of afib that means 2 million calls to doctor or visits to ERs that are not justified.  This could be a huge waste of resources.

Thus the specificity of the AF notification is 80%. The other important parameter is the sensivitiy. Of the cases of AF that last >65 minutes how many are detected by the app?

Apple doesn’t seem to have any data on that but this obvious case of rapid AF lasting for 3 hours does not give me much confidence in their AF detection algorithms.

They do have a lot of CYA statements indicating you should not rely on this for detection of AF:

It is not intended to provide a notification on every episode of irregular rhythm suggestive of AFib and the absence of a notification is not intended to indicate no disease process is present; rather the feature is intended to opportunistically surface a notification of possible AFib when sufficient data are available for analysis. These data are only captured when the user is still. Along with the user’s risk factors, the feature can be used to supplement the decision for AFib screening. The feature is not intended to replace traditional methods of diagnosis or treatment.

My patient took her iPhone and Apple Watch into her local Apple store to find out why her AF was not detected. She was told by an Apple employee that the Watch does not detect AF but will only notify her if her heart rate is extremely low or high. I had asked her to record what they told her about the problem.

As I’ve written previously (see here) the Apple Watch comes with excessive hype and minimal proof of its accuracy. I’m sure we are going to hear lots of stories about AF being detected by the Watch but we need some published, peer-reviewed data and we need to be very circumspect before embracing it as a reliable AF monitor.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Putting The Apple Watch 4 ECG To The Test In Atrial Fibrillation: An Informal Comparison To Kardia

My first patient this morning, a delightful tech-savvy septagenarian with persistent atrial fibrillation told me she had been monitoring her rhythm for the last few days using her Apple Watch 4’s built in ECG device.

Previously she had been using what I consider the Gold Standard for personal ECG monitoring- AliveCor’s Kardia Mobile ECG   and I monitored her recordings through our Kardia Pro connection.

I had been eagerly awaiting Apple’s roll out since I purchased the AW4 in September (see here) and between patients this morning I down-loaded and installed the required iPhone and Watch upgrades and began making AW4 recordings.

Through the day I tried the AW4 and the Kardia on patients in my office.

Apple Watch 4 ECG Is Easy and Straightforward

The AW4 ECG recording process is very easy and straightforward. Upon opening the watch app you are prompted to open the health app on your iPhone to allow connection to the Watch ECG information. After this, to initiate a recording simply open the Watch ECG app and hold your finger on the crown.

Immediately a red ECG tracing begins along with a 30 second countdown.

Helpful advice to pass the time appears below the timer:

“Try Not to move your arms.”

and

“Apple Watch never checks for heart attacks.”

When finished you will see what I and my patient (who mostly stays in sinus rhythm with the aid of flecainide) saw-a declaration of normality:

Later in the day I had a few patients with permanent  atrial fibrillation put on my watch.

This seventy-something farmer from Bowling Green, Missouri was easily able to make a very good ECG recording with minimal instruction

The AW4 nailed the diagnosis as atrial fibrillation.

We also recorded a Kardia device ECG on him and with a little more instruction the device also diagnosed atrial fibrillation

After you’ve made an AW4 recording you can view the PDF of the ECG in the Health app on your iPhone where all of your ECGs are stored. The PDF can be exported to email (to your doctor) or other apps.

ECG of the Bowling Green farmer. I am not in afib.

Apple Watch Often “Inconclusive”

The AW4 could not diagnose another patient with permanent atrial fibrillation and judged the recording “inconclusive”

The Kardia device and algorithm despite a fairly noisy tracing was able to correctly diagnose atrial fibrillation in this same patient.

I put the AW4 on Sandy, our outstanding echo tech at Winghaven who is known to have a left bundle branch block but remains in normal rhythm and obtained this inconclusive report .

Kardia, on the other hand got the diagnosis correctly:

One Bizarre Tracing by the AW4

In another patient , an 87 year old lady with a totally normal recording by the Kardia device, the AW4 yielded a bizarre tracing which resembled ventricular tachycardia:

Despite adjustments to her finger position and watch position, I could not obtain a reasonble tracing with the AW4.

The Kardia tracing is fine, no artifact whatsoever.

What can we conclude after today’s adventures with the Apple Watch ECG?

This is an amazingly easy, convenient and straightforward method for recording a single channel ECG.

I love the idea that I can record an ECG whereverI am with minimal fuss. Since I wear my AW4 almost all the time I don’t have to think about bringing a device with me (although for a while I had the Kardia attached to iPhone case that ultimately became cumbersome.)

Based on my limited sample size today, however, the AW4 has a high rate of being uncertain about diagnoses. Only 2/3 cases of permanent atrial fibrillation were identified (compared to 3/3 for the Kardia) and only 4/6 cases of sinus rhythm were identified.

If those numbers hold up with larger numbers, the AW4 is inferior to the Kardia ECG device.

I’d rather see the AW4 declare inconclusive than to declare atrial fibrillation when it’s not present but this lack of certainty detracts from its value.

What caused the bizarre artifact and inconclusive AW4 tracing in my patient is unclear. If anybody has an answer, let me know.

We definitely need more data and more studies on the overall sensitivity and specificity of the AW4 and hopefully these will be rapidly forthcoming.

For most of my patients the advantages of the AW4 (assuming they don’t already have one) will be outweighed by its much greater cost and we will continue to primarily utilize the Kardia device which will also allow me to view all of their recordings instantaneously in the cloud.

Conclusively Yours,

-ACP

Note. The original version of this post had the wrong ECG tracing for the first “inconclusive” AW4 recording of a patient with permanent atrial fibrillation. H/t to discerning reader Vignesh for pointing this out months after the initial posting.

Has REDUCE-IT Resurrected Fish OIl Supplements (And Saved Amarin)?

The answers are no and yes.

There is still no reason to take over the counter fish oil supplements.

In fact, a study published Saturday found that fish oil supplementation (1 g per day as a fish-oil capsule containing 840 mg of n−3 fatty acids, including 460 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and 380 mg of docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]

did not result in a lower incidence than placebo of the primary end points of major cardiovascular events (a composite of myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes) and invasive cancer of any type.

However, another study  published Saturday (REDUCE-IT) and presented at the annual American Heart Association Scientific Sessions to great fanfare found that an ethyl-ester formulation (icosapent ethyl) of eicosapentanoic acid (EPA, one of the two main marine n-3 fish oils)  reduced major cardiovascular events by 25% in comparison to placebo.

When I wrote about Icosapent ethyl (brand name Vascepa) in a previous blog post in 2015 there was no data supporting its use:

A fish oil preparation, VASCEPA,  available only by prescription, was approved by the FDA in 2012.

Like the first prescription fish oil available in the US, Lovaza, VASCEPA is only approved by the FDA for treatment of very high triglycerides(>500 mg/dl).

This is a very small market compared to the millions of individuals taking fish oil thinking that  it is preventing heart disease.

The company that makes Vascepa (Amrin;$AMRN)would also like to have physicians prescribe it to their patients who have mildly or moderatelyelevated triglycerides between 200 and 500 which some estimate as up to 1/3 of the population.

The company has a study that shows that Vascepa lowers triglycerides in patients with such mildly to moderately elevated triglycerides but the FDA did not approve it for that indication.

Given the huge numbers of patients with trigs slightly above normal, before approving an expensive new drug, the FDA thought, it would be nice to know that the drug is actually helping prevent heart attacks and strokes or prolonging life.

After all, we don’t really care about high triglycerides unless they are causing problems and we don’t care about lowering them unless we can show we are reducing the frequency of those problems.

Data do not exist to say that lowering triglycerides in the mild to moderate range  by any drug lowers heart attack risk.

In the past if a company promoted their drug for off-label usage they could be fined by the FDA but Amarin went to court and obtained the right to promote Vascepa to physicians for triglycerides between 200 and 500.

Consequently, you may find your doctor prescribing this drug to you. If you do, I suggest you ask him if he recently had a free lunch or dinner provided by Amarin, has stock in the company (Vascepa is the sole drug made by Amarin and its stock price fluctuates wildly depending on sales and news about Vascepa) or gives talks for Amarin.

If he answers no to all of the above then, hopefully, your triglycerides are over 500.

And although elevated triglycerides confer an elevated CV risk nearly all prior trials evaluating different kinds  of triglyceride-lowering therapies, including extended-release niacin, fibrates, cholesteryl ester transfer protein inhibitors, and omega-3 fatty acids have failed to show reductions in cardiovascular events

REDUCE-IT, Amarin trumpeted widely in September (before the actual data was published)  now provides impressive proof that it prevents cardiovascular disease. Has the skeptical cardiologist changed his mind about fish oil?

Vascepa Is Not Natural Fish Oil

Although Amarin’s marking material states “VASCEPA is obtained naturally from wild deep-water Pacific Ocean fish” the active ingredient is an ethyl ester form of eicosapentoic acid (EPA) which has been industrially processed and distilled and separated out from the other main omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil (DHA or docosohexanoieic acid).

Natural fish oil contains a balance of EPA and DHA combined with triacylglycerols (TAGS).

So even if the REDUCE-IT trial results can be believed they do not support the routine consumption of  over the counter fish oil supplements for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Does REDUCE-IT  Prove The Benefit of Purified High Dose EPA?

REDUCE-IT was a large (8179 patients) randomized, double-blind placebo controlled trial

Eligible patients had a fasting triglyceride level of 150 to 499 mg per deciliter  and a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level of 41 to 100 mg per deciliter  and had been receiving a stable dose of a statin for at least 4 weeks. In 2013 the protocol was changed and required a triglyceride level>200 mg/dl.

Participants were randomized to icosapent ethyl (2 g twice daily with food [total daily dose, 4 g]) or a placebo that contained mineral oil to mimic the color and consistency of icosapent ethyl and were followed for a median of 4.9 years. A primary end-point event occurred in 17.2% of the patients in the icosapent ethyl group, as compared with 22.0% of the patients in the placebo group.

More importantly, the hard end-points of CV death, nonfatal stroke and heart attack were also significantly lower in the Vascepa arm compared to the “placebo” arm.

These results are almost unbelievably good and they are far better than one would have predicted given only a 17% reduction in triglycerides.

This makes me strongly consider prescribing Vascepa (something I heretofore have never done) to my higher risk patients with triglycerides over 200 after we’ve addressed lifestyle and dietary contributors.

Perhaps the high dose of EPA (4 grams versus the 1 gram utilized in most trials) is beneficial in stabilizing cell membranes, reducing inflammation and thrombotic events as experimental data has suggested.

Lingering Concerns About The Study

Despite these great results I have some concerns:

  1. The placebo contained mineral oil which may not have been neutral in its effects. In fact, the placebo arm had a significant rise in the LDL cholesterol.
  2. Enrolled patients were predominantly male and white. No benefit was seen in women.
  3. Higher rates of serious bleeding were noted in patients taking Vascepa
  4. Atrial fibrillation developed significantly more often in Vascepa patients (3.1%) versus the mineral oil patients (2.1%)

Finally, the trial was sponsored by Amarin Pharma. This is an aggressive company that I don’t trust.  The steering committee consisted of academic physicians (see the Supplementary Appendix), and representatives of the sponsor developed the protocol,  and were responsible for the conduct and oversight of the study, as well as the interpretation of the data. The sponsor was responsible for the collection and management of the data. All the data analyses were performed by the sponsor,

After i wrote my negative piece on Vascepa in 2015 a number of Amarin investors attacked me because Vascepa is the only product Amarin has and any news on the drug dramatically influences its stock price. Here is the price of Amarin stock in the last year.

The dramatic uptick in September corresponds to the company’s announcement of the topline results of REDUCE-IT. Since the actual results have been published and analyzed the stock has dropped 20%.

High Dose Purified and Esterified EPA-Yay or Nay?

I would love to see another trial of high dose EPA that wasn’t totally under the control of Amarin and such trials are in the pipeline.

Until then, I’ll consider prescribing Amarin’s pills to appropriate patients* who can afford it and who appear to have significant residual risk after statin therapy*.

But, I will continue to tell my patients to stop paying money for useless OTC fish oil supplements.

Megaskeptically Yours,-

ACP

N.B.* Appropriate patients will fit the entry criteria for REDUCE-IT described below.

Patients could be enrolled if they were 45 years of age or older and had established cardiovascular disease or were 50 years of age or older and had diabetes mellitus and at least one additional risk factor. Eligible patients had a fasting triglyceride level of 150 to 499 mg per deciliter (1.69 to 5.63 mmol per liter) and a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level of 41 to 100 mg per deciliter (1.06 to 2.59 mmol per liter) and had been receiving a stable dose of a statin for at least 4 weeks;

So either secondary prevention (prior heart attack or stroke) or primary prevention in patients with diabetes and another risk factor.

 

 

AliveCor’s Mobile ECG With Kardia Pro Is Eliminating Any Need For Short or Long Term Cadiac Monitors For Most of My Afib patients: A Tale of Four Cardioversions

I described in detail in March (see here) my early experience in utilizing AliveCor’s KardiaMobile ECG  device in conjunction with their Kardia Pro cloud service to monitor my patient’s with atrial fibrillation (afib). Since that post the majority of my new afib patients have acquired the Kardia device and use it regularly to help us monitor their afib.

This capability has revolutionized my management of atrial fibrillation. In those patients who choose to use AliveCor there is really no need for long-term monitors (Holter monitors, Zio patches, cardiac event monitors) and no need for patients to come to the office to get an ECG when they feel they have gone into afib.

When one of my Kardia Pro patients calls with symptoms or concern of afib, I quickly pull up their chart at Kardiapro.com and review their recordings to determine if they are in or out of rhythm. Most treatment decisions can then be handled over the phone without the need for ordering a monitor or an emergency room or office visit.

One 24 hour period will suffice to show how important KardiaPro is now to my management of my patients with afib

A Day In The Afib Life

Tuesdays I spend the day working in the heart station at my hospital. Typically, on these days I will supervise stress tests, read ECGs and echocardiograms, perform TEES and electrical cardioversions. On a recent Tuesday I had 3 patients scheduled for cardioversion of their atrial fibrillation.

The day before one of these patients called indicating that he suspected he had reverted back to normal rhythm (NSR) based on his Kardia readings. He had had a prior cardioversion after which we know (thanks to daily Kardia recordings) he reverted to afib in 5 days. Subsequently we had started him on flecainide, a drug for maintenance of NSR and scheduled him for the cardioversion.

Not uncommonly after starting flecainide patients will convert to NSR but if they don’t we  proceed to an electrical cardioversion.

I logged into KardiaPro and reviewed his dashboard and sure enough his last two ECGs showed sinus rhythm. I congratulated him on this and we canceled his cardioversion for the next day, saving the lab the time and expense of a cancellation the day of the procedure. The patient avoided much stress, time and inconvenience.

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 7.27.49 AM
ECG recordings showing the patient had transitioned from afib (bottom two panels) to NSR (top two panels) after starting flecainide.

It is important to note that in this patient there was no great jump in heart rate with afib compared to NSR. For many patients the rate is much higher with the development of afib and this is often detected by non ECG wearable monitors (like an Apple Watch.)  But for patients like this one, an ECG is the only way to know what the rhythm is.


A second patient with afib who had elected not to acquire an AliveCor ECG device showed up for his cardioversion on Tuesday and after evaluating his rhythm it was clear he had spontaneously reverted back to NSR.  Prior to my adoption of KardiaPro this was a common and scenario.


The third scheduled cardioversion of the day showed up in afib and we successfully cardioverted him back to NSR. I had not addressed utilizing AliveCor with him. Prior to the procedure he asked me about likely outcomes.

My standard response to this question is that we have a 99.9% success rate in converting patients back to NSR at the time of the cardioversion. However, I can’t predict how long you will stay in NSR after the cardioversion. NSR could last for 5 days or it could last for 5 years. Adding medications like flecainide or amiodarone can significantly reduce the risk of afib recurrence after cardioversion.

At this point he asked me “How do I know if I am in afib?” Whereas many afib patients immediately feel bad and are aware that they have gone out of rhythm, this man like many others was not aware.

Prior to AliveCor my answer would have been to check the pulse daily or look for evidence of high or irregular heart rates on BP monitors or fitness wearables. This scenario provided a wonderful opportunity to test the AliveCor’s accuracy at detecting AF in him. I pulled out my trusty AliveCor mobile ECG and prior to the cardioversion we made the recording below

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After the cardioversion we repeated the Alivecor recording and the rhythm (AliveCor’s interpretation) had changed from afib  to NSR.

Needless to say, this patient purchased a Kardia device the next day and since the cardioversion he’s made a daily recording which has confirmed NSR. I just logged into Kardia Pro and sure enough he made a recording last night and it showed NSR.


Later in the week I received a call from a patient I had electrically cardioverted a few days earlier. His Kardia device had detected that he had gone back into afib.

I logged into my Mac and saw his KardiaPro chart below.

Kardia Pro displays green dots corresponding to NSR and orange triangles corresponding to afib with 100% accuracy in this patient.

 

 

With perfect precision KardiaPro had verified NSR after the cardioversion lasting for 36 hours. For some reason after dinner the day after the cardioversion, the patient had  reverted back to afib. This knowledge greatly facilitates subsequent treatment and eliminates the need for in office ECGs and long term monitors.


Utilization of the Kardia device with the Kardia Pro monitoring service has proved for me to b a remarkable improvement in the management of patients with afib. Managing non Kardia afib patients feels like navigating a forest with a blindfold.

The improvement is so impressive that I find myself exclaiming to my assistant, Jenny, several times a week “How do other cardiologists intelligently care for afibbers without AliveCor?”

I have a few patients who balk at the 15$ per month charge for Kardia Pro and ask why the device and this monthly charge aren’t covered by insurance or Medicare. Given the dramatic reduction that I have noticed in my use of long-term monitors  as well as  office and ER visits in this population, CMS and third-party insurers would be wise to explore Kardia monitoring as a more cost-effective way of monitoring afib patients.

antifibrillatorily Yours

-ACP

N.B. I realize this post appears to be an unmitigated enthusiastic endorsement of a commercial product which is quite uncharacteristic for the skeptical cardiologist.

One might wonder if the skepcard is somehow biased or compensated for his endorsement of Kardia.

In all honesty, this sprung from my love of the device’s improvement in my afib management and I have received no payment, monetary or otherwise from AliveCor and I own none of their stock (and I’m not even sure if it is on the stock market.)

A Review Of The QardioCore ECG Strap From A Patient’s Perspective

One of my patients has been on the cutting edge of personal cardiac monitoring devices and I asked him to share his recent experience with the QardioCore ECG strap. What he sent me is a fascinating description of how the device works (which is unique in this area) along with how it was crucial in diagnosing the cause of his recent symptoms. I’m sharing it below.


I’m a current patient of the Skeptical Cardiologist and have experienced recovery from 14 months of Atrial Fibrillation with Rapid Ventricular Response, and subsequent heart failure.   While I haven’t had symptoms of heart failure or Atrial Fibrillation in over 6 months, as a former long-distance cyclist, I had been following the progress for the FDA approval of the QardioCore device since it was announced over a year ago.   You can learn more about their device at https://www.getqardio.com/qardiocore-wearable-ecg-ekg-monitor-iphone/, but I’ve pasted text from their website here: (https://support.getqardio.com/hc/en-us/articles/115000257105-Electrocardiogram-ECG-EKG- )

“QardioCore is a clinical-quality wearable electrocardiogram recorder. An electrocardiogram – often abbreviated as ECG or EKG – is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. With each heart beat, an electrical impulse (or “wave”) travels through the heart. This wave causes the muscle to squeeze and pump blood from the heart.

 

An ECG gives two major kinds of information. First, by measuring time intervals on the ECG, a doctor can determine how long the electrical wave takes to pass through the heart. Finding out how long the wave takes to travel from one part of the heart to the next shows if the electrical activity is normal or slow, fast or irregular. Second, by measuring the amount of electrical activity passing through the heart muscle, a cardiologist may be able to find out if parts of the heart are too large or are overworked. During an ECG, several sensors, called electrodes, capture the electrical activity of the heart.

QardioCore is ideal for health conscious individuals or those with known or suspected heart conditions to record their everyday ECGs, physical activity, sport performance and medical symptoms and share their data with their doctors. Medical professionals can use QardioCore to quickly assess heart rate and rhythm, screen for arrhythmias, and remotely monitor and manage patients who use QardioCore.

 

QardioCore should be only used in conjunction with professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and not as a substitute, or a replacement for it. Qardio creates products and services that conform to US quality, safety and security requirements for medical products, while delivering a modern user experience. QardioCore will begin selling in the US after receiving US Food and Drug Administration clearance.”

Unfortunately, the US FDA tends to move slowly, and we can only speculate as too why, but the device is not available for purchase here.   However, I found a friend in France who purchased one for me and shipped me the device.   It is not illegal for me to use the device here, but it is not allowed to be sold here in the US.

I use an Apple I-Phone 8Plus and have used both the AliveCor KardiaBand and the KardiaMobile found here (https://store.alivecor.com), and reviewed by the esteemed Skeptical Cardiologist in other posts as well.   While I find it as a useful tool, my only dissatisfaction is that I want to passively monitor my heart during sporting activities and look for rhythm disturbances.   While I’m no expert in either sporting activities or rhythm disturbances, I’ve completed some healthy reading and living on both subjects and have a general awareness of the topic.

The QardioCore device is simple to wear, comes with three belts that can be used and cleaned, and comes with a charging cable.   Everything that the app, and the product does, seems to be accurately described on their web site, so I won’t cover off on details here.   You can read more about it at this link:   https://www.getqardio.com/qardioapp/   My only dissatisfaction with this device, and other blue tooth devices, has nothing to do with the device itself.   Apple seems to randomly disconnect from Bluetooth devices with their phones.   I don’t pretend to know the specific mechanisms for the problem, but my blue tooth devices for bicycling, music headsets, and heart monitoring have all been plagued with intermittent blue tooth connection problems.   So, at times, I find myself having to restart their app to keep the device connected, which is a minor annoyance.   

I also use the QardioArm product to measure and monitor my blood pressure and am satisfied with it as well.

What follows is my anecdotal experiences of September 26, 2018 through the present day and I agreed to write about them here, in case it provides useful insight to others in some way.

As a person with a short-term history of heart problems, I tend to capture a lot of data with my devices.   I monitor things like heart rate variability, blood pressure, Alivecor Kardia readings, sleep history, etc.   I make an active attempt to monitor my levels of stress, but I know for certain that I lead a stressful life.  I work longer hours than I should, probably sleep less than I should, exercise less than I like and should, and medicate and pray far less than I should.  So, I don’t want to imply that anything that happened is the fault of the medical system, bad blue tooth connections, bad medical care, or bad advice from the Skeptical Cardiologist or any other medical professional.   I tend to listen well, learn well, but I don’t always act as I should.  But, I’m responsible for my choices, my decisions, and I live with the results of my actions.

With that said, I was sitting at the office on Wednesday September 26th, 2018 and was working away without a care in the world.   As a computer programmer, I’m very sedentary and enjoy my work.   I was wearing my QardioCore ECG strap at the time because I’m a big believer in capturing baseline data for my general living and lifestyle.   I believe this data was invaluable in my first episode of heart problems, but have no supporting evidence to support my claim.   At around 8:58:42 AM, I felt somewhat bad, and felt my heart racing.   I glanced over at my phone which was showing the ECG trace at the time and noticed what I believed was Atrial Flutter at the time.   But, after about 20 seconds, the ECG trace returned to normal, and I felt fine again.   I made a quick note of the time, because I was busy, and continued working for the day.  The Quardio App provides no diagnostic information, so it doesn’t analyze and interpret ECG patterns like the Alivecor Kardia app does. When I arrived at home later that day, I went back to look at the ECG trace, as the Quardio App easily allows that through features of the App.   When I found the point in time of the ECG, I became concerned immediately because I believe that I was seeing a pattern that I recognized as Ventricular Tachycardia, a condition that comes in many forms, and has many causes, but can be fatal if not properly treated.   As my cortisol levels increased, I contacted Dr. Google and just quickly verified that I wasn’t completely nuts, although I acknowledge there may be some partial nuttiness there.   While going through this process, I experienced another 4 second episode which only increased my anxiety levels.   After contacting my wife and asking her to return home, and informing some family members, I felt it best that I should contact the Skeptical Cardiologist after hours for input on my problem.   I hate to bother the doctor, as he is a busy man, but contacted his after-hours number.  While the operator on the other end of the line wondered what kind of nut case I was, she kindly contacted the doctor who promptly called me on my cell phone.    I had informed the kind doctor that I had the device about three weeks prior, so he was already aware that I had the QardioCore.   I quickly informed the doctor that I believed I had experienced at least one but possibly two cardiac events.   After briefly talking, I hung up the phone and texted him photos of the screens from the Quardio App, so he could see the ECG tracings.   Here are the photos that I sent to the Skeptical Cardiologist via text:

 

 

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I believe this tool is valuable in many ways, but I believe that it was helpful for the Skeptical Cardiologist, as it helped narrow our focus of blood tests, scans, and potential procedures to run in a faster than normal basis.   Normally, if I had not had evidence (accurate or not), I would have had to schedule an appointment, or go to ER.   At that point, they would have either ordered an event monitor for me to wear while I was away from the hospital, or they would have had to admit me.   Since I had a past history of Atrial Fibrillation, which isn’t quite as serious, we would have been sent home with an event monitor and instructions to take it easy and continue to take meds.   We would have run more blood work, and more scans, but the point is that we would have been more broadly focused, as we would have had to generally guess as to the nature of the event and narrow it down.

I recognize that this is one of the controversies that is active in clinical cardiology, as I listen to podcasts by Dr. John Mandrola and others regarding the latest cardio devices, procedures and research.   I realize that many Cardiologists are not in favor of devices like these, because they lead to uninformed conclusions, which leads to unneeded stress on both patients and their stressed-out doctors and cardiologists.   I’ve listened to both sides of the argument, and I have my own opinions that I won’t express here.   I will just say that I believe that this device saved me time, possibly my life (as I don’t know what I don’t know, unless I know to look), and some time in hastening and narrowing my therapy choices.

I will say that my wife and I were extremely happy with the services provided by his staff, himself, his colleagues, and the hospital staff as well.   While I am confident I may be considered a difficult patient by some, or many, they were very thorough and kind in their treatment and explanation of my treatment options.

I hope that my experience adds helpful insight to the discussion.   I’m confident that the Skeptical Cardiologist will add to this post, with his views on the events I’ve discussed above.   And, I believe he appreciates having a Skeptical Patient every now and then as well.


As The Skeptical Patient wrote,  this device is not sold in the United States. Having seen it in action now, I’m eager to get my hands on one and evaluate it further. It could dramatically alter home arrhythmia monitoring. For this patient it was incredibly helpful.  If any of my European or Australian readers has experience with it please let me know.

Qardio makes a stylish, accurate and portable home BP monitor that I’ve written favorably about here.

Qardiodynamically Yours,

-ACP

N.B. Featured image of man running on beach with QardioCore is not of my patient.

Apple’s Alternative Facts And The Giant Watch Restaurant Next Door To AliveCor

As I pointed out Friday,  Apple’s claim that the ECG sensor on their new Apple Watch 4  (available “later this year”) is  “the First ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers” is totally bogus.

AliveCor’s Kardia mobile ECG device was approved by the FDA  for over the counter direct to consumer sales on February 10, 2014. Apple had to have known this as they worked with AliveCor to bring the first Apple Watch based ECG device to FDA approval in 2017.

I tried but failed to get AliveCor founder Dr. David Albert’s thoughts on Apple’s disinformation but Yahoo finance was able to speak to Vic Gundotra, the CEO of AliveCor:

Over at the headquarters of AliveCor, a startup based in Google’s hometown of Mountain View, they, too, were surprised by the announcement, CEO Vic Gundotra said in a phone interview on Thursday. Gundotra is a former Googler, widely known as the executive behind the Google+ social network.

Specifically, Gundotra says that his company was confused by Apple’s claims that the Series 4 will be the first over-the-counter ECG testing device for consumers. AliveCor is a 49-employee startup that makes over-the-counter ECG testing devices and software, including an FDA-cleared band for the Apple Watch, called KardiaBand, and a version that attaches to a smartphone, called Kardia.

Gundotra was also surprised by Apple’s claims of ECG primacy

“We were watching [the announcement], and we were surprised,” Gundotra said. “It was amazing, it was like us being on stage, with the thing we’ve been doing for 7 years,” referring to AliveCor’s product for detecting atrial fibrillation  (AFib), a tough-to-spot heart disorder that manifests as an irregular, often quick heart rate that can cause poor circulation.

“Although when they said they were first to go over-the-counter, we were surprised,” he continued. “Apple doesn’t like to admit they copy anyone, even in the smallest things. Their own version of alternative facts.”

One man’s alternative fact is another (less polite) man’s lie.

Gundotra apparently views Apple’s entry as a good thing

“We love that Apple is validating AFib; just wait until you see what AliveCor is going to do next,” he said. “We were a great restaurant in a remote section of town, and someone just opened a giant restaurant right next to us, bringing a lot more attention.”

And as I pointed out previously, the AliveCor mobile ECG device (not the Kardia Band) is significantly cheaper than an Apple Watch and has multiple studies showing its accuracy. Interestingly, Gundotra indicates AliveCor sales has increased after the Apple announcement,.

“Ours is $99, theirs is $399, our sales popped yesterday, big time,”

Antialternafactively Yours,

-ACP

The New Apple Watch 4: Cardiac Accuracy Unknown, “Game-Changing” Benefits Overblown

On February 10, 2014 AliveCor, Inc. announced that its heavily validated personal  mobile ECG monitor had received FDA over-the counter clearance. Previously the device, which allows recording of a single-lead ECG and, in conjunction with a free smart-phone app, can diagnose atrial fibrillation was only available by prescription.

Since 2013, I have been successfully using this device with my patients who have atrial fibrillation (and writing about it extensively)

Apple COO Jeff Williams standing in front of (presumably) an ECG obtained by Apple Watch 4. It’s OK quality (but smallish p waves). Is that the best they could do? Notice that it is making a diagnosis of sinus rhythm. This PDF can be mailed “to your doctor.”

I was shocked, therefore, to hear the COO of Apple, Jeff Williams, announce that Apple will be offering in its new Apple Watch 4  “the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers.”

This seemed blatantly inaccurate as AliveCor’s device clearly preceded by 4 years Apple’s claim.

Furthermore, AliveCor’s Kardia Band which converts any Apple Watch into a single-lead ECG  (which I’ve written about here and here) has been available and providing the Apple Watch-based ECGs since November 30, 2017.

AliveCor has an outstanding website which documents in detail all the research studies done on their products (there are dozens and dozens of linked papers) and all of their press releases dating back to 2012. It also explains in detail how the product works.

The title of their November 30, 2017 release was  FDA Clears First Medical Device Accessory for Apple Watch®

AliveCor shortly thereafter (December 12, 2017) announced Smart Rhythm , an Apple Watch app that monitors your rhythm and alerts you if it thinks you are in atrial fibrillation. I’ve discussed Smart Rhythm here.

Apple’s Watch will tell you that you are not in atrial fibrillation. Given that we don’t know how accurate it is, should that be reassuring?

The new Apple Watch’s rhythm monitoring app sounds a lot like Smart Rhythm but without any of the documentation AliveCor has provided.

So, within 10 months of Alivecor providing the world with the first ever wearable ECG (and proven its accuracy in afib) Apple seems to have come out with a remarkably similar product.

The major difference between Apple and AliveCor is the total lack of any reviewable data on the accuracy of the Apple device. Yes, that’s right Apple has provided no studies and no data and we have no idea how accurate its ECG device is (or its monitoring algorithm).

For all we know, it could diagnose sinus rhythm with frequent APCS or PVCs consistently as atrial fibrillation, sending thousands of Watch 4 wearers into a panic and overloading the health care system with meaningless alerts.

Apple’s website claims

Apple Watch Series 4 is capable of generating an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. It’s a momentous achievement for a wearable device that can provide critical real-time data for doctors and peace of mind for you.

Apple’s “momentous achievement” was actually achieved 10 months earlier by AliveCor and if its monitoring algorithm and ECG system are significantly worse than the proven AliveCor system they will be destroying the peace of mind of users.

Electrodes built into the Digital Crown and the sapphire back crystal allow sensing of cardiac electrical signals. Did Apple get this idea from AliveCor?

After describing the Apple Watch’s new health features, Jeff Williams introduced Ivor Benjamin, MD, the President of the American Heart Association. Benjamin proceeded to describe the new Apple Watch cardiac features as “game-changing”, noting that the AHA is committed to helping patients be “proactive.”

Does  Benjamin have access to the accuracy of the Apple Watch ECG sensor? If so, he and the AHA should immediately share it with the scientific community. If not, by endorsing this feature of the Watch he should be ashamed. Users need to know if he or the AHA was paid any money for this appearance. Also, we should demand to know if (as the prominent AHA logo suggested and news reports implied) the AHA is somehow endorsing the Apple Watch.

Frequent readers know I’m a huge Apple fan but this Apple Watch business makes me think something is rotten in the state of Apple.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP