A hi-tech T-shirt packed with tiny sensors can make it easier to diagnose if a woman has entered menopause.
The garment is worn around the clock to measure temperature changes and identify sweating caused by the hot flashes that many menopausal women suffer from.
The sensors, which are close to the skin, measure every 30 seconds. The results are passed through a thin wire to a small computer-controlled controller sewn into the hem and then sent to a doctor’s computer via Bluetooth.
Menopause occurs when the aging ovaries naturally stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This causes three in four women to experience intermittent hot flashes throughout the day, with some even having to replace soaked sheets at night [File photo]
Scientists behind the invention in China hope it will accelerate menopause diagnosis, potentially allowing women to access treatment to relieve symptoms earlier, such as hormone replacement therapy.
The diagnosis can currently take several, sometimes worrying years, as common symptoms – including depression, mood swings, fatigue, and headaches – can be attributed to weight problems and other lifestyle problems.
Menopause occurs when the aging ovaries naturally stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
This causes three in four women to experience intermittent hot flashes throughout the day, with some even having to replace soaked sheets at night.
The exact mechanism isn’t clear, but a drop in estrogen is said to affect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that produces hormones and regulates body temperature.
The regular cotton T-shirt is embedded with combined temperature and humidity sensors in areas where women report the worst effects of a hot flash, such as the armpits, abdomen and upper back [File photo]
While the average age of menopause is 51, some women experience symptoms from the age of 45, while others see no signs until the mid-50s.
Numerous factors can explain this variation, including the age at which a woman’s mother went through menopause and whether or not she was breastfeeding a baby (believed to help maintain ovarian function for longer).
While doctors consider symptoms, their diagnosis is usually based on a patient’s age and, crucially, whether she’s 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 offered routinely to women under 45 with menopausal symptoms.
Scientists from Guangzhou University hope that the smart T-shirt can help women aged 50 and younger in particular to get a faster diagnosis, as their menopausal symptoms can often be attributed to other causes.
The regular cotton T-shirt is embedded with combined temperature and humidity sensors in areas where women report the worst effects of a hot flash, such as the armpits, abdomen and upper back.
The summit has been tested on eight middle-aged women, who have had hot flashes for three years, but have not been diagnosed. They wore it continuously during various activities, including relaxing on the couch and walking.
The results, published in the journal Sensors, showed that the T-shirt was able to accurately track how often hot flashes occurred, as well as their height and intensity. This gave doctors vital clues about how far menopause was. Larger studies are now planned.
Tania Adib, a consultant gynecological surgeon at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Essex and The Medical Chambers in London, says that “wearable technology” (clothing or equipment worn to monitor various aspects of health) is becoming increasingly popular.
While the average age of menopause is 51, some women already have 45 symptoms, while others don’t see signs until the mid-50s [File photo]
But she warned that the T-shirt could lead many women to seek help only when they get hot flashes, when in fact the first 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 menopause before the age of 45 have much higher levels of blood-blocking deposits – called plaques – than women who go into their 50s menopause, according to a study at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria. This puts them at an increased risk for heart disease.
Falling estrogen levels are said to make the vessel walls more vulnerable to harmful deposits, according to a report in the journal Atherosclerosis.