First patient in the UK fitted with a pen-sized sensor to warn of heart failure

A heart failure patient is the first in the UK to be fitted with an early warning sensor the size of a pen cap that will alert if their condition worsens.

Consulting cardiologists Dr Andrew Flett and Dr Peter Cowburn pioneered the procedure to modify the FIRE1 system during trials at University Hospital Southampton (UHS), Hampshire.

A UHS spokeswoman said: “The procedure is part of a groundbreaking international study to prove that this new way of monitoring and treating heart failure patients is safe and effective.

“The unique technology is a pen cap-sized sensor designed to monitor the amount of fluid in the body – elevated levels can indicate worsening heart failure.

“The device is implanted in the inferior vena cava (IVC) – the largest vein in the body – in the abdomen, which returns deoxygenated blood to the heart.

“It works by continuously measuring the size of the IVC and provides a marker of the amount of fluid in the body.

“High levels can increase the risk of breathing difficulties and a buildup of fluid in the lungs, which can lead to emergency hospitalization.”

The device is implanted in a simple 45-minute procedure using a small catheter placed in a vein at the top of the leg. It collapses upon entry so that it can be pushed up into the IVC where it expands to its full size.

After surgery, patients receive an external sensing belt worn across the abdomen for one to two minutes a day that powers the implanted sensor using radiofrequency energy.

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

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 as part of this groundbreaking study.

“We have now successfully implanted a second patient with the device and already sending data that we would like to receive, allowing us to intervene earlier to reduce hospital visits and keep patients healthy for longer.

“Heart failure is a significant burden on the NHS and so groundbreaking advances like this one can help reduce that burden.”

He added: “It is estimated that one in five people will develop heart failure and earlier intervention when patients start to deteriorate can make a huge difference and the hope is that this new FIRE1 device will do just that.

“It’s an exciting new development for patients with this condition.”

The university spokeswoman added, “FIRE1 has successfully completed early phase clinical trials and is now expanding its study to evaluate the feasibility and safety of implanting the FIRE1 system in patients with heart failure.”

She explained that heart failure occurs when the heart cannot efficiently pump blood around the body, causing fluid to build up.

She said UHS admitted 700 patients with the condition each year, with an estimated 900,000 people in the UK living with heart failure, costing the NHS £2 billion a year.

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