Ingestible Vitals Monitoring Pills: Measuring Breathing and Heart Rate from the Stomach

digital technology fitness wearables health trackers heart rate ingestible devices monitoring vital signs pacemakers repiratory rate track health track physical activity vitals vitals monitoriing pill Feb 19, 2024
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Digital devices have become increasingly popular for tracking health-related measures. For example, fitness wearables are a common way to recreationally track physical activity, calories burned, and even heart rate. Digital technology is also prominent in the management of medical conditions. Specifically, implantable devices such as pacemakers, continuous glucose monitors, and deep brain stimulation electrodes are common therapies for chronic disease. 

The quality and accuracy of recreational health trackers is not high enough for use in the medical field, and implantable devices require invasive and often expensive procedures, making them unfeasible and potentially inaccessible. A novel invention that has just begun trials in humans serves to address this gap between personal devices and implants. 


Importance and utility of monitoring vital signs

Heart rate and respiratory rate are two of the main vital signs measured in hospitals and other clinical settings. They are one of the first things healthcare providers look at when evaluating a patient, as they reveal the severity of a distressed patient’s illness and serve as a general signal of the patient’s condition. Vitals can also be a marker of responsiveness to potentially life-saving therapy. Clearly, vital signs have a high clinical utility and importance.

Heart rate and respiratory rate are also valuable outside the clinical setting. For example, athletes may monitor vital signs to indicate the status of their physical fitness. Members of the military and first responders also monitor vitals to assess performance status and safety.

Currently, vitals are typically monitored through attachment of external sensors to the body. However, this can cause patient discomfort and is incompatible for use in settings of vigorous physical activity, such as in assessing athletes’ physical condition. As a result, there is a need for an easier, more convenient method to evaluate vital signs both clinically and for other purposes. 


What is an ingestible vitals monitoring pill, and how does it work?

The new device invented to address this need is called an ingestible vitals monitoring pill. Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the device is about the size of a typical multivitamin. It is ingested orally and passes through the GI tract, after which it is excreted within days. 

Image from Albert Swiston/MIT

The pill contains sensors, a radio, and a microprocessor, which allow it to monitor vibrations produced by breathing and heart contractions from within the GI system. The device is capable of both transmitting and assessing respiratory rate and heart rate. 


Potential Uses 

Ingestible devices have already been used to monitor core body temperature in military members in Iraq and Afghanistan and in NFL athletes. The FDA-approved PillCam has also been used as a method to take photos of the GI tract in medical settings. However, a pill that assesses multiple vital signs at once has never been developed or put into use.

Some of the proposed medical uses for the new ingestible vitals monitoring pill include:

  • Diagnosing and monitoring breathing in obstructive sleep apnea
  • Detecting overdoses on opiates in high-risk patients
  • Assessing vital signs in trauma or burn patients: These patients cannot be touched or have an external monitor placed on their skin.
  • Identifying heart problems in people with irregular heart activity for only a few seconds of the day: Currently, these patients are required to wear a monitor that cannot be worn in the shower, which causes inconvenience.

However, the device can also be used for non-medical purposes, such as:

  • Body monitoring in high-level athletes: The device would allow for performance assessments without the use of external equipment.
  • Safety assessments in the military or in first responders 


Device Accuracy

Ideally, this pill would be an innovative solution to problems in medical and non-medical vitals monitoring. However, you may be wondering about the accuracy and effectiveness of this device. In a 2023 study of patients with sleep apnea, the pill was shown to closely match traditional vitals assessments by skin sensors and overnight monitoring in a facility. The accuracy for measuring respiration rate was 92.7%, and the accuracy for measuring heart rate was at least 96%. The vitals monitoring pill also detected when patients stopped breathing. 

Although recent research is promising for the new ingestible vitals monitoring pill, there is still a great deal of clinical trials to be done before this device can be used in a medical setting and become mainstream. When it completes the clinical trial phase and gains approval, this device could be a groundbreaking technological advancement in the medical field, with the potential to reduce treatment costs and length of hospital stays, provide clinical monitoring at home, and increase patient adherence to treatment.




The first ingestible vitals monitoring pill was tested on humans in 2023. This small, pill-sized device has the potential to monitor heart rate and respiratory rate from within the GI tract. In a clinical setting, this pill can be used to monitor breathing in sleep apnea, detect opiate overdoses, assess vital signs in burn patients, and monitor heart problems throughout the day. Outside of medicine, it can be used as a performance measure in athletes and as a safety monitor in first responders and the military. Although this device is relatively new, it has shown promising safety and efficacy in early clinical trials. After further research is done and this new technology is approved, it will no doubt be a groundbreaking innovation both within and outside of the medical field. 


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