Hydrocephalus patients now have a reason to smile. Why? A game changer technology, in form of a sensor to help manage the disease is finally here! Well, the device is nothing complex as most of us could expect.
In appearance, it is like a small Band-Aid — that can be placed on the skin to monitor the performance of a special tube (also called shunt,) that is often placed inside a patient’s head to drain away excessive fluid.
In other words, this is a non-invasive approach that could completely revolutionize how hydrocephalus patients check on their shunt performance.
Hydrocephalus in a Nutshell
Records show that this disease affects over a million people. And the breakdown is that in every 1,000 births, there is one hydrocephalus case. In particular, the disease is said to be potentially life-threatening as it causes fluid buildup in the victim’s brain.
So to control excessive accumulation a special straw-like tube, (or shunt in doctoral terms) gets implanted into the patient to drain away the fluid. This has been known to work very effectively, however, there is one big problem. That is, shunts often fail, which call for frequent MRIs, CT scans and sometimes surgery just to monitor them.
That’s where the new sensor monitor comes in. And it’s interesting because the inventors say this device is able to tell whether the “straw” is working as required on not, non-invasively and in as little as 5 minutes.
Shunt Failure Rate
Doctors agree that although shunts are very effective, they also stand a 100% failure rate, that is over ten years – and worse of all is that diagnosing these failures is extremely challenging.
Common signs indicating shunt failure may include feelings like strange nausea, headaches, and low energy. So to separate a shunt failure from something else hydrocephalus patients must get an MRI or CT scan or as said earlier they might require invasive diagnoses.
Why a Monitor
A headache is often just a pain that can be cleared by popping an ibuprofen pill. However, that’s not the case with hydrocephalus patients, a headache could be a sign indicating the need for an immediate medical checkup. Unfortunately, that also means spending heaps of dollars in scans, radiation, or even surgery just to confirm things.
But with the new wireless band-like sensor, patients can avoid such costly presumptions. A case in point of how this device could change lives is this: Willie Meyer, despite being only 26 years, has virtually been spending almost all his holidays in an emergency room. Adding to that he has undergone close to 190 surgeries, in the name of emergency brain surgical checkups.
Commenting on the discovered sensor, Meyer says, “With a better option to monitor these headaches, hopefully, I’ll be able to at least live a normal life.”
In other words, for Meyer and hundreds of thousands of other patients, the team from Northwestern Medicine University believes their new device is the game-changer. They say they have tested it on five adult patients and that the results are so encouraging. A report of this research, about the new wearable shunt monitor, now appears in the journal Science Translation Medicine.
How the New Sensor Works
The wearable band is a tinny wireless device that uses a small battery. It is Bluetooth enabled, so users can connect it to their cellphone, where it delivers readings continuously. When the need arises, users can do an on-demand check and get the results of their shunt performance within five minutes.
Siddharth Krishna a co-lead author and Ph.D. student with the Rodgers Research Group from Northwestern, in conclusion, said, “Besides taking it as a wearable, nurses can also place the sensor on the patient and within minutes get the measurement.