Hi-tech T-shirt packed with tiny sensors that can help diagnose the menopause by taking readings every 30 seconds
A hi-tech T-shirt packed with tiny sensors could make it easier to diagnose whether a woman has started the menopause.
The garment is worn round the clock to measure changes in temperature and identify sweating caused by the hot flushes many menopausal women suffer.
The sensors, which sit close to the skin, take readings every 30 seconds. The results are relayed via a thin wire to a tiny computerised controller sewn into the hem, then transmitted to a doctor’s computer via Bluetooth.
The menopause occurs when ageing ovaries naturally stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This causes three in four women to experience intermittent hot flushes throughout the day, with some even needing to change drenched bedsheets at night [File photo]
Scientists behind the invention in China hope it will speed up the diagnosis of the menopause, potentially giving women earlier access to treatment to relieve symptoms, such as hormone replacement therapy.
Diagnosis can currently take several, sometimes distressing, years as common symptoms — including depression, mood swings, tiredness and headaches — can be put down to weight problems and other lifestyle issues.
The menopause occurs when ageing ovaries naturally stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
This causes three in four women to experience intermittent hot flushes throughout the day, with some even needing to change drenched bedsheets at night.
The exact mechanism is not clear, but a drop in oestrogen is thought to affect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that produces hormones and controls body temperature.
The ordinary cotton T-shirt is embedded with combined temperature and humidity sensors in areas where women report the worst effects of a hot flush, such as the armpits, abdomen and upper back [File photo]
While the average age that the menopause begins is 51, some women suffer from symptoms as early as 45, while others see no signs until their mid-50s.
Numerous factors can account for this variation, including the age a woman’s own mother went through the menopause and whether or not she breastfed a baby (thought to help preserve ovarian function for longer).
While doctors do consider symptoms, their diagnosis is usually based on a patient’s age and, crucially, whether she has had a period in the past 12 months.
A blood test for high levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, which usually indicates reduced ovarian function, is only routinely offered to women under 45 with menopausal symptoms.
Scientists at Guangzhou University hope the smart T-shirt could help women aged 50 and under, in particular, get a quicker diagnosis, as their menopausal symptoms can often be attributed to other causes.
The ordinary cotton T-shirt is embedded with combined temperature and humidity sensors in areas where women report the worst effects of a hot flush, such as the armpits, abdomen and upper back.
The top was tested on eight middle-aged women, who had been experiencing hot flushes for up to three years but had not been diagnosed. They wore it continuously while doing different activities, including relaxing on the sofa and going for a walk.
The results, published in the journal Sensors, showed the T-shirt could accurately track how often hot flushes occurred, as well as their length and intensity. This gave doctors vital clues on how advanced the menopause was. Larger studies are now planned.
Tania Adib, a consultant gynaecological surgeon at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Essex, and The Medical Chambers in London, says ‘wearable technology’ (clothes or devices worn to monitor various aspects of health) is becoming increasingly popular.
While the average age that the menopause begins is 51, some women suffer from symptoms as early as 45, while others see no signs until their mid-50s [File photo]
But she warned the T-shirt might prompt many women to only seek help when they start to suffer hot flushes, when in fact the earliest signs of menopause are often anxiety, depression or insomnia.
‘It’s an interesting concept, but it remains to be seen how much practical use it is,’ she says.
Meanwhile, women who go through the menopause before 45 have much higher levels of blood vessel-blocking deposits — called plaques — than those who become menopausal in their 50s, according to a study at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria. This puts them at increased risk of heart disease.
Falling oestrogen levels are thought to make artery walls more vulnerable to harmful deposits, according to a report in the journal Atherosclerosis.
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