New device allows pacemaker patients to safely undergo MRIs

May 25, 2012

For many, it's a medical conundrum: The very pacemaker keeping their heart in rhythm prevents them from undergoing an MRI to diagnose other ailments, because interaction between the two devices could prove deadly.

In fact, about 200,000 Americans a year have to forgo advanced for fear it could render their pacemakers inoperable. But Samantha Sorillo represents a new breed of patients.

Diagnosed with a slow heartbeat at just 42 years old, the Hollywood physical therapist was implanted in January with Medtronic's Revo MRI SureScan -- the first and only device approved by the U.S. for use in MRI settings.

The avid runner says the new technology made her feel better about having to wear a pacemaker for the rest of her life.

"I'm only 42. The chances of me needing an MRI are pretty good, and working in the , I knew that's a no-no," Sorillo said. "So this has given me that, if anything happens, I can have an MRI."

Since gaining last year, officials say hospitals across the country have purchased the Revo, including 33 in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Among them: Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center and Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

Sorillo's cardiologist, Dr. John Cogan of Memorial Regional Hospital, calls the Revo pacemaker "groundbreaking."

"MRIs are so much better (at diagnosing various conditions) that you'd really feel bad for patients that they couldn't have it, so this makes you feel good they can get an MRI if they need one," Cogan said.

With the typical pacemaker, there's a high risk that an MRI's can make the implant malfunction or compromise the wiring on its leads. Though in and under heavy scrutiny, some pacemaker patients have gotten MRIs done without incident, the risk is so high and the debate unsettled that the standard professional practice is to recommend against it, Cogan said. Until now.

"The line I would tell patients is, 'Pacemakers are all about allowing you to do things, they're not about limiting you from doing things,' " said Boca Raton Regional electrophysiologist E. Martin Kloosterman. " 'The only thing you can't do is get an MRI.' So that line has changed because of this.

"It's a significant advance in the delivery of patient care."

The technology comes at a time when both the number of pacemakers implanted and the number of MRI scans performed are rising with the aging of the U.S. population, various studies show.

And those who tend to benefit from MRIs the most are age 65 and older, since the scan offers the clearest picture of various cancers and brain disorders, Kloosterman said.

But it's not for everyone. Because the device is designed with two leads that connect to two chambers of the heart, people who need just one lead to correct a single-chamber problem, like atrial fibrillation -- among the most common of irregular heartbeats -- can't use the Revo, said Cogan, who estimates he implants the device in more than half of his patients who need a pacemaker. The device is covered under a patient's insurance, just as other pacemakers are.

For Kloosterman, "the question is why wouldn't I recommend it, not why would I?" he said. Other pacemakers may come with additional technology more suitable for a particular patient's needs, like sensors that monitor certain levels of activity, so the decision on which pacemaker offers the best fit is made on a case-by-case basis.

Sorillo, though, was a perfect candidate for an MRI-compatible device.

A chronic sufferer of fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath, she tolerated the symptoms -- and the occasional ambulance ride -- for a couple of years after doctors told her she was suffering from anxiety attacks. But when she moved from New York to Broward County last year, Cogan did more extensive tests and eventually diagnosed her with bradycardia, or a slow heartbeat.

These days, Sorillo says she feels great. "I have energy. I'm no longer tired. I can actually sleep on my back," Sorillo said, adding that the MRI compatibility was "really, really the best part."

Though Medtronic is the first to develop the MRI compatibility technology, both Cogan and Kloosterman agree that it won't be long before other companies seek approval for competing devices that will be available in every hospital in the country.

"The industry in general is moving there," Kloosterman said. The next advance, he suggested: developing implantable defibrillators that can be used in MRI settings.

Explore further: Hopkins study finds MRI tests safe for people with implanted cardiac devices


Related Stories

Hopkins study finds MRI tests safe for people with implanted cardiac devices

October 3, 2011
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), an important diagnostic test, has traditionally been off limits to more than 2 million people in the United States who have an implanted pacemaker to regulate heart rhythms or an implanted ...

Magnetic resonance imaging with side effects

April 30, 2012
Great care should be taken when performing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in patients with a cardiac pacemaker. Henning Bovenschulte and his co-authors review recent findings in the latest issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt ...

Atrial arrhythmias detected by pacemakers increase risk of stroke

January 11, 2012
An irregular heartbeat that you don't even feel but can be picked up by a pacemaker is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, says a new McMaster University study.

Recommended for you

Could aggressive blood pressure treatments lead to kidney damage?

July 18, 2017
Aggressive combination treatments for high blood pressure that are intended to protect the kidneys may actually be damaging the organs, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.

Quantifying effectiveness of treatment for irregular heartbeat

July 17, 2017
In a small proof-of-concept study, researchers at Johns Hopkins report a complex mathematical method to measure electrical communications within the heart can successfully predict the effectiveness of catheter ablation, the ...

Concerns over side effects of statins stopping stroke survivors taking medication

July 17, 2017
Negative media coverage of the side effects associated with taking statins, and patients' own experiences of taking the drugs, are among the reasons cited by stroke survivors and their carers for stopping taking potentially ...

Study discovers anticoagulant drugs are being prescribed against safety advice

July 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham has shown that GPs are prescribing anticoagulants to patients with an irregular heartbeat against official safety advice.

Protein may protect against heart attack

July 14, 2017
DDK3 could be used as a new therapy to stop the build-up of fatty material inside the arteries

Heart study finds faulty link between biomarkers and clinical outcomes

July 14, 2017
Surrogate endpoints (biomarkers), which are routinely used in clinical research to test new drugs, should not be trusted as the ultimate measure to approve new health interventions in cardiovascular medicine, according to ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.