Monitoring catches fainting patient’s irregular heartbeat

Jacinthe Bisson photo

Doctors in the Emergency Department at The Ottawa Hospital couldn’t explain why Jacinthe Bisson was having fainting spells, until a clinical study revealed she had a life-threatening heart condition. 

In one year, the 51-year-old had three syncope, or fainting, episodes. But by the time she arrived at the hospital, she was fine and the doctors could not identify what had caused her to faint. Often syncope is brought on by an over active nervous system (fainting when seeing blood), dehydration, or a drop in blood pressure. Jacinthe had none of these issues.

A small percentage of people with syncope suffer from serious medical conditions, such as an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. Often patients with unexplained syncope are monitored for few hours, but if their heartbeat is normal during that time their condition isn’t caught and they could be discharged only to go home and later die from an arrhythmia.

Jacinthe was an ideal candidate to participate in a clinical study led by emergency physician, Dr. Venkatesh Thiruganasambandamoorthy.

“I wanted to find out what was going on with me. And I’m interested in science and research, so if I could participate, then maybe that research would help other people,” said Jacinthe.

She went home wearing a monitor round-the-clock for 15 days to keep track of the rhythm of her heart. Jacinthe had several episodes when her heart beat fast. However, on the seventh day, she felt light headed, hot and weak. The monitor captured a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia. Her cardiologist hospitalized her immediately and performed further testing on the electrical systems of her heart, resulting in Jacinthe having a defibrillator inserted and being prescribed daily medication.  

“I have not fainted since,” she said. “This monitor – this research – saved my life. I’m convinced of it.”

Years ago, Jacinthe’s uncle passed away suddenly. When Jacinthe described her symptoms, her widowed aunt told her that he’d had had the same ones before he died. Jacinthe is convinced that her uncle died of an arrhythmia, which hit home how important this study is to save lives.

Each year, the Civic and General campuses see up to 1,500 fainting patients. Many of these patients are monitored in the emergency department for up to six hours. About 12 percent of the patients, though, are admitted and monitored for five to seven days. The average daily hospital stay costs about $1,400, which adds up to about $9,800 per patient.

“Whereas, wearing this monitor for 15 days will cost about $500 in total per patient,” said Dr. Thiruganasambandamoorthy.  “And patients can be monitored at home rather than in the hospital.”

Dr. Thiruganasambandamoorthy’s study has monitored 20 patients since it began October 2016. Three had life-threatening heart issues that were picked up by the monitor. In the next year, emergency departments in London, Kingston, Quebec City and Vancouver will join the study with each hospital enrolling up to 40 patients. Dr. Thiruganasambandamoorthy hopes that results from this study will demonstrate that monitoring high risk syncope patients at home is the best way to treat them.