Your daily visit to the bathroom scale could soon flood you with information about your health beyond how much you weigh. From the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), researchers have already developed and are improving upon a prototype multifunctional scale. This technology is just another step toward applying medicine toward the prevention of disease instead of waiting to treat disease.
"Hospitals are fully equipped with advanced technologies for diagnosing illnesses and critical conditions, but it is too expensive to use this equipment for everyday health monitoring,” explained Vaidotas Marozas, director of the KTU Institute of Biomedical Engineering. “On the other hand, people do not have many devices for personal health monitoring at home, and these devices could be very practical.”
The multifunctional scale is designed to be able to detect conditions like arteriosclerosis and cardiac arrhythmia through the measurement of arterial stiffness. Arteriosclerosis, characterized by hardened arteries, restricts the flow of blood to organs and tissues, cutting them off from much-needed oxygen and nutrients.
To monitor arterial stiffness, the scale would have handlebars attached to the base, with sensors on both the handlebars and the footpad electrodes. Measuring the pulse arrival time from heart to feet, or the “speed of blood pulse wave,” would result in a report on a person’s arterial condition. “The faster the speed, the stiffer the arteries,” described KTU’s Birut Paliakait. Developing arterial stiffness is often a precursor to other conditions like arteriosclerosis and hypertension.
The researchers aren’t stopping at measuring arterial stiffness, arteriosclerosis, and hypertension. Their plan for the multifunctional scale includes the measurement of more than 20 different parameters, including cardiac arrhythmia and conditions relating to kidney disease.
"When a person has final stage of renal insufficiency syndrome, he or she has to undergo the dialysis several times a week,” Paliakait explained. “As kidneys cannot manage keeping the balance of microelements in the organism, the risk of potentially life threatening conditions, such as increased potassium concentration in blood, i.e. hyperkalemia, arises.”
Even when the prototype is developed into a product that is available to the public, will it be too expensive and complicated for the average, health-conscious user? Marozas says no. "Our technology is less complex than that of a smart phone, which needs expensive materials and elements,” he said. “We are creating data processing algorithms, and our main resource is our intellect.”