Algorithm screens for pulmonary arterial hypertension in scleroderma patients

April 22, 2021

Screening for a serious condition among patients with a rare autoimmune disease could soon – thanks to a computer algorithm – become even more accurate.

Researchers at Michigan Medicine found that an internet application improved their ability to spot pulmonary arterial hypertension in patients with systemic sclerosis, or scleroderma. The unpredictable condition is marked by tightening of the skin that can damage internal organs.

The algorithm, aptly named DETECT, outperformed standard methods used to identify the form of high blood pressure in the lungs that causes the heart to weaken and fail.

The DETECT algorithm is a two-step algorithm that uses six different clinical variables to determine whether a patient requires an echocardiogram, or ultrasound, of the heart. The second step then informs whether the patient should be referred for a right heart catheterization.

Researchers found the algorithm correctly identified all 10 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension in a study of 68 subjects.

Of the times DETECT identified signs of pulmonary hypertension during the study, however, only 20% of patients who had right heart catheterizations actually suffered the debilitating condition.

Around 10% of patients with scleroderma, which affects around 70,000 people in the U.S. each year, develop pulmonary hypertension. Under current guidelines, physicians screening scleroderma patients for the condition observe an annual echocardiogram.

While it’s an effective diagnostic tool for symptomatic patients, the ultrasounds don’t predict the condition accurately in asymptomatic people or early in the disease, the researchers said.

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