Digital heart image

UK patient fitted with pen lid-size sensor to detect heart failure

Image credit: Dreamstime

A UK patient has been the first to be fitted with a small early-warning sensor which alerts doctors if their condition deteriorates.

The sensor has been designed by doctors at the University Hospital Southampton (UHS), in Hampshire.

The device was implanted during a simple 45-minute procedure, using a small catheter which is placed in a vein at the top of the leg.

With this innovative method, the doctors hope to enable more rapid interventions, helping keep people well for longer and easing financial pressures on the NHS. 

“The procedure is part of a cutting-edge international research study which intends to prove this new way of monitoring and treating heart failure patients is safe and effective," said a UHS spokeswoman.

“The unique technology is a sensor about the size of a pen lid which is designed to monitor the amount of fluid in the body – elevated levels can give an indication of worsening heart failure."

The device is implanted into the inferior vena cava (IVC), which carries oxygen-depleted blood from the abdomen back to the heart.

It works by continuously measuring the size of the IVC, which can be used to make an estimate of the amount of fluid in the body, with increased levels giving an indication of worsening heart failure.

“High levels can increase the risk of breathing difficulties and a build-up of fluid in the lungs which can lead to an emergency hospital admission,” the spokeswoman said. 

The procedure to fit the FIRE1 System was pioneered by consultant cardiologists Dr Andrew Flett and Dr Peter Cowburn. Their work forms part of a cutting-edge international research study into the use of innovative technology.

After surgery patients are provided with an external detection belt worn across the abdomen for one to two minutes a day which powers the implanted sensor using radiofrequency energy.

The data from the device is then is sent from a patient’s home to the heart failure team at UHS daily with the aim of alerting the team to early warning signs so they can intervene before their condition worsens significantly.

“This innovative new device has the potential to improve patient safety and outcomes in the management of patients with chronic heart failure and we are delighted to be the first site in the UK to implant as part of this ground-breaking study," said Dr Flett said. 

“We have now successfully implanted a second patient with the device and data is already being transmitted which we look forward to receiving so that we can intervene earlier in a bid to reduce hospital visits and keep patients well for longer.

“Heart failure is a significant burden on the NHS and so pioneering advances such as this could help to reduce that pressure.”

It is estimated that one in five people will develop heart failure, and over 9,000 people in the UK are currently living with this condition. For this reason, the doctors believe earlier intervention can make a huge difference in many patients' lives. 

UHS alone is said to admit 700 patients with the condition every year, with the condition costing the NHS £2bn per year.

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