Early warning

March 16, 2010

While it may not make the headline news very often, heart failure is a serious, chronic disease that affects more than 22 million people worldwide. And the prognosis is frightening: nearly half of all heart failure patients die within four years. One reason is a common – and sometimes fatal – complication called decompensation. But new techniques from Philips Research may help find a way to predict decompensation before it reaches a critical level.

Decompensation causes a person’s body and lungs to fill with excess fluid, sometimes so severely that they can hardly move or breathe. It often results in long hospital stays for recovery. And while many heart failure patients use home telemonitoring systems, which transmit patient-recorded health measurements to healthcare providers for review, the current systems cannot yet predict a potential decompensation event. This is unfortunate since decompensation, if caught early enough, can be treated with medication instead of hospitalization.


“Heart failure patients often experience a gradual deterioration in health status over weeks before ultimately requiring hospitalization,” notes Sarwat Chaudhry, professor of medicine at US-based Yale University. “A system of frequent monitoring may help clinicians to intervene early and thereby avoid the need for hospitalization.”

New techniques developed by Philips Research help resolve this issue by predicting decompensation days in advance through home telemonitoring systems such as Philips Healthcare’s Motiva and TeleHealth. Using highly sensitive textile sensors, patients could measure their breathing patterns, body movement and even electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) readings at home.

One technique is based on an upper-body vest with integrated textile electrodes that can take ECG readings during rest as well as during gentle movement – important for getting a complete picture of the patient’s health. The second innovation is a bed-monitoring technique that consists of unobtrusive sensors weaved into the pillowcase and the bed sheet that monitor the subtle electrical impulses of the heart.

One technique is based on an upper-body vest with integrated textile electrodes that can take ECG readings during rest as well as during gentle movement – important for getting a complete picture of the patient’s health. The second innovation is a bed-monitoring technique that consists of unobtrusive sensors weaved into the pillowcase and the bed sheet that monitor the subtle electrical impulses of the heart.

The key technology involved is the signal-processing algorithms that extract ECG data from the electrodes. Measurement data would then be sent automatically to healthcare providers through a phone or broadband connection. “If the results indicate potential problems, the doctor may have time to adjust treatment before hospitalization is required,” notes Richard WIllman, heart failure project team member.

Currently, the new techniques are being refined in an observational telemonitoring study with six European university clinics. Results are expected in mid-2010, so it may be a few years before the technology is widely available, but the potential of an early decompensation warning will be worth the wait.



Did you know?

  • Heart failure is the most common cause for hospitalization in people 65 and older.
  • Approximately two million new patients diagnosed with heart failure each year.
  • A recent study found that heart failure patients using home telemonitoring systems had an average 21% reduction in hospital admissions.