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Wearable sensors of the future could tell you if you are sick before you even have symptoms

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A simple fitness sensor could tell if your sick before you know you are

Wearing a device similar to a FitBit or Apple watch could tell you if you're sick. Wearable technology of the future could make medical care more individualized and even alert you and your doctor that something's brewing before you have symptoms.


Findings published Jan. 12, 2017, in PLoS Biology, have major implications for knowing when to seek medical help before anything becomes worse.

Sensors that monitor body changes could help low income individuals and those in rural areas remain proactive about knowing when to see the doctor.

Biosensors detect health issues before symptoms strike

Health and fitness monitors with biosensors offer an advantage over one time checkups at the doctor. A great example is variances in heart rate and blood pressure that might not be found during a routine visit to your health care provider.

The next time your doctor insists you should be on blood pressure medication because your readings are high (because you hate going to the doctor), you could share the information.

But researchers think we could do even more with the now available devices that could expand ways to monitor our health and well being and bring an individualized approach to medical care.

For their experiment, published in the journal PLoS Biology, researchers, from Stanford University and Veterans Affairs Palo Alto tracked one man who wore 7 different devices over a period of two years. They compared the individual's variances in skin temperature and heart rate and compared the finding to other participants in the study.

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Sensors were able to detect the man had Lyme’s disease. What they found was a few instances when the man’s skin temperature and heart rate became elevated.

Each device measured the man’s activity, exposure to radiation, blood oxygen level, providing more than 250,000 readings a day.

The man reported feeling congested during the occurrences.

Grace Peng, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) program in Computational Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis said in a media release: “The wearable was actually able to predict Lyme disease even before the patient had any symptoms.”

The finding is “exciting” says Jessilyn Dunn, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University and one of the lead authors on the paper who also understands a once a year doctor visit might not reveal valuable health information.

Wearable sensors that aren’t yet ready for consumer use could also be used during airplane flights to detect radiation exposure and even diagnose type 2 diabetes.


Li X, Dunn J, Salins D, Zhou G, Zhou W, Schüssler-Fiorenza Rose SM, et al. (2017) Digital Health: Tracking Physiomes and Activity Using Wearable Biosensors Reveals Useful Health-Related Information. PLoS Biol 15(1): e2001402. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2001402