A heart failure patient has become the first in the UK to be fitted with an early warning sensor the size of a pen lid which alerts medics if their condition worsens.
The device will allow for more rapid interventions, helping keep people well for longer, avoiding costly hospital admissions and easing pressure on the NHS.
The procedure to fit the FIRE1 System was pioneered by consultant cardiologists Dr Andrew Flett and Dr Peter Cowburn during trials at University Hospital Southampton (UHS), Hampshire.
Their work forms part of a cutting-edge international research study into the use of the innovative technology.
The device monitors the amount of fluid in the body, with increased levels giving an indication of worsening heart failure.
It is implanted during a simple 45-minute procedure using a small catheter which is placed in a vein at the top of the leg.
It is collapsed on entry so it can be pushed up into the inferior vena cava (IVC) – the body’s largest vein – located in the abdomen, which carries oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart.
The sensor is then expanded to its full size where it continuously measures the size of the IVC, which signals the amount of fluid in the body.
High levels can increase the risk of breathing difficulties and a build-up of fluid in the lungs which can lead to an emergency hospital admission.
After surgery, patients are provided with a detection belt worn across the stomach for one to two minutes a day which powers the implanted sensor using radiofrequency energy.
Data is sent from a patient’s home to the heart failure team at UHS daily with the aim of alerting the team to early warning signs so they can intervene before their condition worsens significantly.
It is estimated that more than 900,000 people in the UK are living with heart failure and this number is likely to rise due to an ageing population, more effective treatments and improved survival rates after a heart attack.
Heart failure admissions to hospital currently cost the NHS £2bn a year.
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Dr Flett said: “This innovative new device has the potential to improve patient safety and outcomes in the management of patients with chronic heart failure and we are delighted to be the first site in the UK to implant as part of this ground-breaking study.
“We have now successfully implanted a second patient with the device and data is already being transmitted which we look forward to receiving so that we can intervene earlier in a bid to reduce hospital visits and keep patients well for longer.
“Heart failure is a significant burden on the NHS and so pioneering advances such as this could help to reduce that pressure.”
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 is an exciting new development for patients with this condition.”