By Holly Giles
As you read this your heart is (hopefully!) pumping blood around your body to deliver sufficient oxygen to all your muscles, organs and tissues. However, for as many as 920,000 people in the UK this is not the case; these people are living with heart failure, meaning the heart is not pumping as much blood around the body as it should. This often occurs after the heart tissue has been damaged, for example by a stroke. More than 80% of these patients are diagnosed in hospitals despite over half of them displaying symptoms which should have been picked up by doctors and healthcare professionals at a much earlier stage. This is the battle which researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are trying to change.
These researchers envisage a day when a commercial bathroom scale would be able to monitor changes in patients with heart failure each morning. These results would then be communicated with a doctor who could call the patient and arrange changes to medication remotely. This would cut thousands of hospital admissions and release strains on the NHS. This may sound like a far-fetched dream however this week 43 heart failure patients reported success using the scales and the machine’s processing of their data. These strides have been made by the team through the use of the signal called a ballistocardiogram (BCG). This was a common medical practical in the early 1900s but was quickly replaced by more modern imagine technology. However, through cutting edge technology the team have been able to utilise BCG in a new way; “Our work is the first time that BCGs have been used to classify the status of heart failure patients,” said Omer Inan, the study’s principal investigator. It is the use of BCG and ECK signals which allows them to monitor heart failure through tracking inconsistencies in blood flow around the body.
Of course this product, which was launched in 2011, is still a long way from hitting our shelves but it proves proof-of-concept that this item is possible and offers hope that one day we can monitor organ failure in this remote but effective way.