Bathroom Scale Monitors Heart Patients

Millions of heart patients may soon be able to simply "step on a scale" to monitor their hearts.

A new study from researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta is studying 43 patients with heart failure right now. They say a future marketable version of the medical monitoring scale would ideally notify a doctor, who would call the patient to adjust his or her medication at home, hopefully sparing him a long hospital stay and needless suffering.

The scale works by monitoring the pulsing and bobbing signal called a ballistocardiogram (BCG), a measurement researchers took more commonly about 100 years ago but gave up on as imaging technology far surpassed it. The researchers are making it useful again with modern computation.

Heart failure affects 6.5 million Americans and is a slow-progressing disease, in which the heart works less and less effectively. Many people know it as congestive heart failure because a major symptom is fluid buildup, which can overwhelm the lungs, impeding breathing and possibly causing death.

Omer Inan, the study's lead researcher says, “In someone with decompensated heart failure, the cardiovascular system can no longer compensate for the reduced heart function, and then the flow of blood through the arteries is more disorderly, and we see it in the mechanical signal of the BCG,” Inan said. “That difference does not show up in the ECG because it’s an electrical signal.”

“The most important characteristic was the degree to which the BCG is variable, which would mean inconsistent blood flow. If you chop up the recording into 20-second intervals and the individual segments differ from each other a lot, that’s a good marker of decompensation,” Inan said.

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