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A new tool for cardiac diagnostics

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Artificial intelligence (AI) may be an aid to interpreting ECG results, helping healthcare staff to diagnose diseases that affect the heart. Researchers at Uppsala University and heart specialists in Brazil have developed an AI that automatically diagnoses atrial fibrillation and five other common ECG abnormalities just as well as a cardiologist. The study has been published in Nature Communications.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a simple test that can be used to check the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity. The results are shown on a graph that can reveal various conditions that affect the heart. The tool is routinely used in healthcare and each ECG needs to be interpreted manually by a cardiologist.

The new study demonstrates that an AI is capable of automatically diagnosing the abnormalities indicated by an ECG. The AI was initially trained on a database comprising over two million ECGs that had already been diagnosed manually. In this way, it can learn to recognise typical patterns for the six most common ECG abnormalities and then make a diagnosis of another patient with one of these conditions—with the same precision as a cardiologist.

The method is currently not ready for use in clinics and hospitals; however, the researchers believe that it offers great potential for improved cardiovascular care in low and where large parts of the population lack the same level of access to specialists who are able to interpret ECG results as we enjoy in Sweden.

“This is the first result of a collaboration that we have built up over the past two years. I have great confidence that in the future this type of deep collaboration between AI researchers and medical researchers will be able to create new knowledge that can help people enjoy a better quality of life,”

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