Preventing strokes with a heart monitor

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- More than 750,000 people suffer from strokes each year in the U.S. Of those, up to 1/3 of the cases are due to unknown causes, leaving patients at risk for future strokes or death. Now, a new implantable device the size of a matchstick could change that.

Larry Ambrose plays the ukulele with ease. What didn't come easy was learning at a trip to the hospital for high blood pressure, that he'd actually had a stroke.

"I was very frightened," Ambrose told ABC30.

Like nearly 1/3 of all stroke patients, Ambrose had a cryptogenic stroke, meaning doctors didn't know what caused it, putting him at risk for another.

"The stroke, you don't know when it's coming, where it's going to strike," he said.

Richard Bernstein, MD, Director of the Stroke Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said that it's patients like Larry who are most worrisome because without a cause, physicians must guess the best treatment.

"That's a big problem in society. About 250,000 of these occur a year, just in the United States, and all of those folks are at risk for having another stroke if we don't get the medical therapy right," Dr. Bernstein told ABC30.

Now, a new implantable cardiac device can detect the cause of the stroke.

"That monitor can detect brief episodes of something called atrial fibrillation. That's an irregular heartbeat," Dr. Bernstein said.

If a blood clot then travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. If the monitor detects a-fib first, doctors prescribe blood thinners.

"If we can put a monitor in and tell them they don't have atrial fibrillation and that they are on the right therapy even that's quite reassuring to them," Dr. Bernstein explained.

"It really was therapeutic. It really helped me kinda say, okay, I'm cool," Ambrose said.

A monitor that makes sure Ambrose doesn't skip a beat.

A-fib causes up to one in every five strokes and every year in this country, about 156,000 people have a-fib strokes.

For more information, contact:

Sheila Golloro
Senior Media Relations Associate
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare

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