Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a wearable heart monitor which can assess heart health over several days. The research team call the device an “e-tattoo” and claim that its stretchability makes it more comfortable and convenient to wear compared with previously developed devices. The device is the first stretchable, ultrathin sensor that can provide both electrocardiography (ECG) and seismocardiography (SCG) measurements.
For patients suffering from or at risk of heart disease, monitoring their heart health is important. However, getting an ECG exam means that they have to visit their doctor’s office and also doesn’t allow for continuous measurement over a number of days. In addition, ECG readings alone, which provide information on the electrical activity of the heart, aren’t as informative and valuable as a combined ECG/SCG exams, which also provide information on chest vibrations associated with the heartbeat, and indicate how accurate the ECG measurements are.
To address these issues, researchers have been developing wearable sensors that patients can use to keep track of their heart health over time. However, to date, many of these have been bulky and/or uncomfortable. This issue inspired the University of Texas researchers to design a sleek and comfortable alternative.
The flexible e-tattoo sensor consists of polyvinylidene fluoride, which is piezoelectric, meaning that it can generate electricity when it is deformed. The slim, stretchable device is attached to the chest, and the system incorporates a method to map chest vibrations to help find the optimal place to attach the sensor.
The device is powered remotely by a user’s smartphone, and it can be worn for several days, providing non-stop heart monitoring. By offering both ECG and SCG measurements, the e-tattoo provides a more accurate assessment of heart health. “We can get much greater insight into heart health by the synchronous collection of data from both sources,” said Nanshu Lu, one of the investigators involved in the study.
The researchers claim that as the device is flexible and thin, it is more comfortable and convenient to wear compared with previously developed wearable heart monitors. The team has also recently developed an app to accompany the device, which can display a representation of the heart beating in real time, and store all the collected data.