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Article published in issue 252 of the magazine Informacions (May 2012)

Heart monitoring using weighing scales

The Instrumentation, Sensors and Interfaces (ISI) Group has developed an intuitive and cost-effective scale, which, as well as measuring weight, also records the electrical activity of the heart from foot and hand contact. The device demonstrates the usefulness of telemedicine, which is particularly appropriate for people who need frequent heart checkups.

A particularly complex issue in the healthcare system is how to monitor post-operative elderly patients or patients who have received an initial diagnosis, particularly because these patients need to visit a hospital regularly for checkups.

For people with cardiovascular disease, the situation is even more complicated, because having an electrocardiogram can disrupt their daily lives. But the situation is beginning to change thanks to the possibilities offered by telemedicine.

Pursuing this line of research, the ISI Group at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) has designed a revolutionary medical device: a bathroom scale that performs electrocardiograms at home.

The system is economical and easy to use, keeps track of patients with cardiovascular disease and avoids the need for patients to visit the hospital. "Just as we have a thermometer at home to check for fever, we now have a scale that gives us lots of information on the cardiovascular system. And controls weight, obviously,” says Ramon Pallàs, the researcher leading the project.

Looking to the future
The scale works using electrodes embedded in the surface that make contact with the feet and in handles that make contact with the hands. Patients can stand as if they were being weighed, or they can be seated if they have problems keeping their balance.

Four measurement points obtain six of the twelve standard electrocardiogram signals (the rest would require electrodes to be placed on the person’s chest). Despite this drawback, the technology is considered to be a breakthrough, because it means that patients can be kept track of at home.

Electrocardiogram results obtained with the scales have to be assessed by a physician, so the scale allows signals to be transmitted via a cable to a conventional electrocardiograph, a mobile terminal or a computer. "This is a major development. Telemedicine is heading in this direction, with control centres that receive large amounts of information and computer systems that detect and analyse irregularities,” says Ramon Pallas.

The device that monitors the heart has already been patented, but the project is not considered finished, because the ISI Group has set two goals for this year. The first is to locate companies interested in marketing any of the possibilities offered by the invention, especially those related to the electrocardiogram, and the second is to obtain European Union funding to conduct further research and to better determine the link between the electrocardiogram and pulse wave arrival time to the foot. “This time period, related to blood pressure, is important because hypertension is a leading cause of death,” says the researcher, a member of the Department of Electronic Engineering.

This innovative project that looks to the future of medicine transforms an everyday object into a device that can monitor patients with heart conditions.

The researcher responds

Ramon Pallàs


Heart monitoring using weighing scales

Castelldefels School of Telecommunications and Aerospace Engineering

For whom
People who need frequent heart monitoring

For what
Perform home-based electrocardiograms

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Fundació Espanyola per a la Ciència i la Tecnologia Any de la Ciència 2007 Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación
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