Skin patch takes ultrasound images of your heart as you move

A prototype skin patch produced images comparable to those of a standard handheld device used to visualize the heart before and after exercise. Visualizing the heart during exercise can help with cardiovascular diagnosis


January 25, 2023

A wearable ultrasound sensor about the size of a postage stamp takes pictures of the heart while the wearer is exercising.

Xu Laboratory, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

A small, flexible patch worn on the chest can create ultrasound images of the heart as people move. The first device of its kind could help diagnose various medical conditions by imaging the heart during exercise.

Currently, doctors take ultrasound images of the heart, called an echocardiogram, by placing a handheld device on the chest that sends and receives ultrasound waves. This is used to visualize the organ after a heart attack, for example, or in someone with heart failure, when the blood isn’t pumping hard enough through the body.

According to Hongjie Hu of the University of California, San Diego, doctors currently take pictures of someone’s heart before and after exercise to assess problems that only become apparent when the heart has to work harder. Monitoring cardiac activity during exercise can help with diagnosis, he says.

Hu and his colleagues therefore created a wearable device to produce and receive ultrasound waves from a piezoelectric material, which can transform electrical energy into mechanical energy and vice versa.

The patch, which is about the size of a postage stamp, converts electrical signals into vibrations to produce ultrasound waves. It also detects reflected ultrasound waves, which turn into electrical signals.

The first prototype is connected to a computer that analyzes the electrical signals and transforms them into images.

When used by testers, the prototype produced images of the heart comparable to a standard handheld device, the team reports.

“There has never been a way to see the heart during exercise before,” says Hu.

A spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation says the device should be able to show the movement and output of the heart, which would be useful for diagnosing conditions such as heart failure and heart valve problems.

The team also created a wireless version, the results of which will be published in a future article.

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Skin patch takes ultrasound images of your heart as you move

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