Paramedics responding to 911 calls often find themselves in a situation where a patient is having difficulty breathing. Here they must ask themselves: is this patient suffering from acute emphysema or heart failure? While both have similar symptoms, initiating improper treatment may cause severe complications.
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Research Laboratory of Electronics and Harvard Medical School recently teamed up to develop an algorithm that can be used to help determine, with high accuracy, whether a patient is suffering from emphysema or heart failure.
A capnograph, a piece of equipment used in every ambulance, uses readings that measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in a patient’s exhalations after a breathing tube is inserted. Over time, physicians observed that the capnograms of patients with congestive heart failure and emphysema were subtly but consistently different both from each other and from those of healthy subjects.
The algorithm the research team has developed uses the data the machine yields to look for correlations between the patients’ capnograms and their final diagnoses. Through the use of the algorithm, the team was able to distinguish both emphysema patients from those with congestive heart failure and healthy subjects from those with emphysema.
Currently, the team is testing the algorithm with paramedics in the field and evaluating whether capnography can measure the severity of asthma attacks and the degree of sedation in patients undergoing medical procedures.