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This Shirt Makes a Health Statement

April 29, 2002|BENEDICT CAREY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Questionnaires are a staple of medical history taking, but researchers and doctors have long dreamed of getting vital signs directly from the source--the body itself, heartbeat by heartbeat, breath by breath. That's the inspiration for a flurry of recent health monitoring innovations, including pager-like devices that help track calories, rings with pulse sensors, and high-tech vests wired to monitor breathing.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the LifeShirt System, a zip-up undershirt and handheld computer made by VivoMetrics Inc. of Ventura.

The garment, which looks like a cross between a wetsuit top and a fisherman's vest, monitors about 30 systems, from heart rate and blood oxygen level to breathing and posture. The readings can be downloaded into a computer, for use by doctors who want to monitor patients' vital signs after they leave the office, for instance.

The company expects the device to appeal to doctors studying the interaction of the heart and lungs, researchers tracking the effect of new drugs, and physicians tracking sleep problems in their patients.

Written diaries of sleep habits are not always reliable, and by tracking respiration the LifeShirt can help diagnose the problem. It shouldn't keep anyone awake: The vest weighs just 8 ounces, VivoMetrics says, and you can even throw it in the washing machine.

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