Mini health miracles
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with technology. My teenaged children swear by it, but I often think it causes more problems than it solves. Even I have to admit though, that many of the most impressive medical advances of the last few years would never have happened without the astonishing advances in technology we see around us. Many of them are used in hospitals to make diagnoses and provide short-term treatment. But the woman next to you on the bus may be hiding a medical miracle without you even knowing it.
Diabetes - pump it up
People with type 1 diabetes need regular doses of insulin to keep them alive. This often involves giving themselves injections several times a day. But it can be hard to get the right dose - the amount you need is affected by what you eat, whether you're exercising etc. Insulin pumps deliver a varied dose of insulin into your system continuously, mimicking the way a normal pancreas works. They're not suitable for everyone but in the right circumstances, they can be a life-saver.
Blackouts - doing the detective work for you
One in two people lose consciousness at some point in their lives. The older you are, the more common it becomes - but because it happens unpredictably it can be difficult to find out what's causing the problem. Without knowing the cause, treatment is tricky - and that's where our first medical miracle comes in. Implantable loop recorders - tiny devices about the size of a stick of chewing gum - can be implanted under the skin of the chest. They trigger if you have an abnormal heart rhythm causing you to black out, and record your heart rhythm. The heart clinic can read the tracing - hey presto! Mystery solved and treatment can be given
Shocking news - mini medical miracle saves lives
We've all heard about cardiac arrests. We've all seen the medical 'soaps', where a crash team rushes in and gives the patient an electric shock to bring them back to life. Time is of the essence - if resuscitation isn't started within 10 minutes, the chances of survival are tiny. More and more organisations, from big companies to shopping centres, now have defibrillators on site.
You might think yourself lucky to survive one cardiac arrest. Just imagine if you got the news that you had a heart abnormality that made this kind of cardiac arrest - called ventricular fibrillation - likely to occur at any time.
Stand up our next medical miracle. Defibrillators now come in scaled-down size, so small that they can be implanted under your skin with nobody noticing they're there. These 'implantable cardiac defibrillators' are programmed to detect the abnormal heart rhythm and give a life-saving electric shock within seconds.
In some forms of heart disease, the heart can't pump out properly. This leads to fluid building up in the lungs, causing heart failure. Medicines help, but in severe cases a new treatment called cardiac resynchronisation is making headlines in the medical world. Pacemakers put in at different points around the heart help the chambers work smoothly together and can improve quality of life and life expectancy.
High blood pressure - when the drugs don't work
Anyone who's read my page more than a couple of times knows I'm obsessed with high blood pressure! It's important because it's so common (it affects 2/3 of Britons over 65); doesn't cause short-term symptoms (so you don't know you have it unless you get it checked); but is one of the biggest risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Medicines (along with weight control, diet changes and exercise) can control most people's blood pressure. But new hope for the minority of patients where no combination does the trick may be at hand. Renal artery denervation is a minor operation, under local anaesthetic, using a catheter threaded down the arteries around your kidneys. It's still in the early stages, but results are so positive that in ten years from now it may be a standard treatment.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.