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Digital Technology could Uncover Links between Stress and Disease

Medico Legal

Wearable devices offer exciting opportunities to longitudinally detect and track multi-modal stress and symptoms of disease in an objective and unobtrusive way

The potential and emerging opportunities involving digital technology, stress and disease are highlighted in the article: Unlocking stress and forecasting its consequences with digital technology, which was published in the Nature Partner Journal, Digital Medicine, July 2019.

The availability and capabilities of digital devices have exploded in recent years. Smart phones, watches, rings, vests, scales, patches and even eyeglasses can produce different types of physiological data reflecting measures of the autonomic nervous stress system and objective digital biomarkers relating to activity patterns, daily routines, cognition, speech patterns, eye movements, and social activity.

The big data from these connected devices holds huge promise in discerning processes leading to disease. One of the major underpinnings of disease is stress, yet little progress in uncovering how it produces end stage illnesses such as acute episodes of major depression, flares in irritable bowel disease and symptoms or cardiac events has been made.

Exposure to stress and individual reactions to stress are complex, fluid and dynamic. Until recently, we have had little means tomeasure, and discern the complexity associated with individual stress responses, and how these responses forecast disease. -

Sarah Goodday, Postdoctoral Researcher,

Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will be needed to translate the large volumes of data coming from digital devices and to decipher the complex inter and intra individual variation in stress and how it forecasts end stage illness. With the help of AI these tools could return signs of stress and early warning signs to individuals, offering personalised health management systems.

The market for wearable devices continues to saturate, outlining the importance of focusing efforts on large scale feasibility studies across different patient populations. Once the feasibility of using these digital tools to detect and track stress is established, these approaches offer real potential for pathways towards individualised care.

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