High-tech vest that measures lung fluid could benefit those with heart failure

By Jeff Lagasse
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Doctors at The Ohio State University Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital are testing a high-tech vest which measures fluid inside the lungs from outside a person’s clothing. It could potentially be a new way to prevent repeated trips to the hospital for the nearly six million Americans living with heart failure.
 
The SensiVest, created by Sensible Medical, uses radar technology that was first used by the military and rescue teams to see through walls and rubble in collapsed buildings.
 
“Now the technology has been miniaturized and put into a form that allows the radar to go through the chest wall and get an accurate measurement of water inside the lungs,” said Dr. William Abraham, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “With heart failure, the heart isn’t strong enough to keep up with the body’s needs and fluid stays in the lungs. Too much fluid makes it hard to breathe.”
 
Until now, cardiologists hadn’t concocted a non-invasive way of proactively monitoring for fluid changes. The M.O. has generally been to rely on patients weighing themselves daily and reporting symptoms such as swelling or shortness of breath. By then, it could be serious enough to require treatment in the hospital.
 
“We’ve learned these methods don’t catch the disease progression early enough, and that’s why hospitalization and rehospitalization rates for heart failure have changed very little in the last 20 to 30 years,” said Abraham.
 
Doctors are testing the vest in a national, randomized clinical trial to see if it effectively monitors and manages lung fluid, reduces hospitalizations and improves quality of life. Abraham leads the trial that includes approximately 40 sites across the country.
 
All patients enrolled in the trial receive a high standard of care for heart failure. Those randomized to the treatment group will also use the lung fluid monitor at home to take daily readings. The vest is worn over clothing and a reading takes about 90 seconds. The data is then uploaded to a secure server, where the patient’s cardiologist or nurse can review it.
 
Doctors can then use that data to see when the lungs are trending toward being too wet, and make adjustments to the medication on an outpatient basis or over the phone. The goal is to keep the patient within a normal range -- and out of the hospital.
 
A previous (and small) observational study compared hospitalizations before and after using the vest. That study showed an 87 percent reduction in heart failure hospitalizations with vest lung fluid monitoring.
 
Patients in the trial will be followed for up to nine months.