Cedars-Sinai Blog

Wearable Tech Gut Check

wearable tech, Abstats, eating after surgery

New wearable tech knows when it's safe to eat after surgery

Wearable technology that counts steps, tracks sleep, and estimates calories burned is standard in many fitness routines. Tracking data with these devices could play a more important role as you and your doctor make health decisions in the future, especially as these devices become more sophisticated in what they can track.

At Cedars-Sinai, new wearable technology is helping to answer a practical question raised every day in a medical center: When is it safe to eat after surgery? The answer: Listen to your gut.

Anyone who undergoes any kind of surgery experiences a temporary shutdown of the digestive system as the body deals with the stress of the operation. Everyone’s system comes back online at a different rate.

Doctors can decide when it's safe for a patient to eat after surgery by listening to the body—literally.

Eating too soon after surgery can lead to complications like nausea and vomiting, or even pneumonia. Eating too late after surgery can lead to infections and longer hospital stays. Furthermore, medications used for pain can also slow the digestive system.

So how do doctors decide when it's safe for patients to eat after surgery?

Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of Health Services Research, invented a way to answer that question by listening to the patient's body—literally.

AbStats, gut, microphone, wearable technology

An AbStats monitor listens to the growls and gurgles in the gut to measure how quickly the intestines are working after surgery.

An AbStats monitor is a small device that is attached to the stomach to listen to the intestines. The growls and gurgles in the guts can help measure how quickly the intestines are working. This gives nurses and doctors data they can use to decide when patients can safely eat after surgery.

As a gastroenterologist, Dr. Spiegel frequently listens to bowel sounds with a stethoscope. But listening to someone's intestines in that manner for a long time wouldn't be practical or necessarily lead to accurate data collection.

So AbStats was born: a device that can vigilantly monitor and measure these sounds. The device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015.

The device went through several stages of development, starting as a belt—which patients said they didn't like—and evolving into two small sensors that stick to the abdomen.

Spiegel and his colleagues continue to test and fine-tune the device and its accompanying software, and they're considering what other applications it could have in the future. For example, there may be a commercial version to help those who struggle with emotional eating and weight loss to know if they are physically hungry or experiencing "head hunger."