Heart devices should always be interrogated at post-mortems

21st September 2016

Heart devices contain important information that should be downloaded when a person with one dies.

Family members, doctors and manufacturers of the devices could all benefit from getting the results, says Dr Sunil Sinha from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.  But often, because the patient has died, the information is viewed irrelevant.

Dr Sinha says that in the past too little attention has been given to pacemakers  and internal defibrillators (implantable cardioverter-defibrillators or ICDs) after death, but now his team and others are starting to see their potential to provide important and otherwise unseen clues.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dr Sinha and his colleagues advocate the routine interrogation of these devices regardless of the suspected cause of death.

Guidelines from the Heart Rhythm Society and the Association for European Cardiovascular Pathology already encourage post-mortem interrogation of ICDs when someone has died suddenly. But Dr Sinha said his study supports going a step further so all the devices are examined even when the cause of death is not sudden.

He said: “Very often we can hypothesise what the probable cause of death is, but unless we look at all the possible clues we really ‘don’t know what we don’t know,’ as the old saying goes.”

For more details, see here