A heart failure patient has become the first in the UK to be fitted with an early warning sensor the size of a pen cap that can alert medical staff if his condition worsens.
The device will allow for faster interventions, helping people stay healthy for longer, avoid costly hospital bills and reduce the pressure on the NHS.
The procedure for installing the FIRE1 system was pioneered by consultant cardiologists Dr Andrew Flett and Dr Peter Cowburn during a trial at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) in Hampshire.
Their work forms part of a cutting-edge international study on the use of innovative technologies.
The device monitors the amount of fluid in the body, with elevated levels indicating worsening heart failure.
It was implanted during a simple 45-minute procedure using a small catheter placed in a vein at the top of the leg.
It collapses on entry so it can be pushed into the inferior vena cava (IVC) – the body’s largest vein – located in the abdomen, which brings oxygen-poor blood back to the heart.
The sensor then expands to its full size, which continuously measures the size of the inferior vena cava, which signals the amount of fluid in the body.
High levels can increase the risk of difficulty breathing and fluid buildup in the lungs, which can lead to emergency hospital admission.
After the procedure, the patient wears a test strip that goes through the stomach for one to two minutes a day, using radio frequency energy to power the implanted sensors.
Data is sent daily from the patient’s home to UHS’ heart failure team with the goal of alerting the team to early warning signs so they can intervene before the condition becomes significantly worse.
It is estimated that more than 900,000 people in the UK live with heart failure and this number is likely to rise due to an aging population, more effective treatments and improved survival rates after a heart attack.
Hospital admissions for heart failure currently cost the NHS £2 billion a year.
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Dr Flett said: “This innovative new device has the potential to improve patient safety and outcomes in the treatment of patients with chronic heart failure and we are delighted to be the first site in the UK to implant this breakthrough research.
“We have now successfully implanted the device in a second patient and have transmitted the data we look forward to receiving so that we can intervene earlier to reduce doctor visits and keep patients healthy for longer .
“Heart failure is a significant burden on the NHS, so ground-breaking advances like this may help reduce that burden.”
He added: “It is estimated that one in five people will develop heart failure and intervening early when patients start to deteriorate can make a huge difference and hopefully this new FIRE1 device will do just that.
“This is an exciting new development for patients with this disease.”