It’s a common medical device, found in every ambulance, doctor’s office, perhaps even in your own home. And simply blowing up a blood pressure cuff around your arm when you’re having a heart attack can reduce the amount of permanent heart muscle damage by up to one half, an international team of researchers co-ordinated from Toronto’s prestigious Hospital for Sick Children has found.
Although it goes by the rather unwieldy name “remote ischemic pre-conditioning”, the technique, developed by doctors at Sick Kids, is exquisitely simple, cheap, non-invasive and safe.
It involves inflating a standard blood pressure cuff on the upper arm of someone having a heart attack for five minutes, and deflating it for another five minutes, repeating the cycle four times.
The procedure exploits the most powerful, inborn protective mechanism the human body uses to protect its tissues from harm.
Cutting off blood flow in the arm in short, brief bursts, then restoring it again, causes the body to release a substance in the blood that sends a message around the entire body that something bad is about to happen. It warns and protects the heart from subsequent damage by triggering changes in heart cells so that they can better resist the lack of blood flow.
It also makes white blood cells react less aggressively, causing less damage to heart muscle after the heart attack.
In a study on adults published in this week’s issue of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, an international team co-ordinated by Sick Kids showed that, when done by a paramedic en route to hospital, ischemic preconditioning can reduce the size of heart attacks by 30 - 50%.
Earlier research on this technique when used with pediatric heart patients at Sick Kids Hospital had already been published in the June 2006 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
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