Japanese researchers have developed a system for smartphones that alerts epileptics at least 30 seconds before a seizure helping patients take precautions in the nick of time and avoid injuries.
A team from Kyoto University which developed the system is collaborating with Kumamoto University and Tokyo Medical and Dental University to get the device to be commercially produced by 2020, the Nikkei financial publication reported Thursday.
The system uses a small sensor placed close to the collar bone or the heart to detect changes in the heartbeat. Just before an epileptic attack, changes in nerve cell activity affect the autonomic nerves that control the heart.
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The system detects these changes through the sensor and wirelessly transmits the signals to the smartphone, which uses a special application to analyse them.
To determine if the heartbeats are abnormal, the system first creates a baseline profile by taking measurements under normal conditions.
When the heartbeat deviates from the normal baseline, the system alerts the user through a sound or a vibration.
In the tests conducted on patients at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, the team was able to correctly detect abnormalities in five out of every six cases, between 30 seconds and several minutes before a seizure, which is sufficient to take precautionary measures.
So far, the system has only been tested on patients at rest, but the team wants to improve the precision of the system to detect imminent attacks when the patients are involved in other activities.
According to its developers, the price of the system, excluding the handset, would be less than 10,000 yen ($85).
Epileptic fits are caused by sudden excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells, and can lead to momentary loss of consciousness or temporary muscular contractions and even intense and prolonged convulsions.
Epilepsy is a disease that affects people of all ages and close to 50 million people around the world, according to the World Health Organisation.