A new device that can detect the stress hormone in sweat has been developed which could eventually help doctors better understand stress-related health conditions.

The Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory (Nanolab) and Xsensio has made a wearable device that can be placed directly on a person’s skin and can continually measure the concentration of cortisol.

It has an essential role to play within the body as cortisol helps regulate metabolism, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Adrian Ionescu, head of Nanolab, said: “Cortisol can be secreted on impulse — you feel fine and suddenly something happens that puts you under stress, and your body starts producing more of the hormone.”

The production of the hormone normally helps a person to deal with stressful situations and it works in sync with the circadian rhythm, peaking between 6am and 8am and then gradually decreasing into the afternoon and evening.

However, problems can occur when people suffer from stress-related diseases as this can impact the circadian rhythm.

Mr IIonescu said: “If the body makes too much or not enough cortisol, that can seriously damage an individual’s health, potentially leading to obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression or burnout.”

Up until now, blood tests have always been used to measure cortisol levels. But, saliva, urine and sweat can also be used to detect the hormone, which is why the Nanolab team wanted to find a less intrusive way to monitor it.

The device’s patch contains a transistor and an electrode made from graphene which, due to its unique proprieties, offers high sensitivity and very low detection limits.

Mr IIonescu added: “That’s the key advantage and innovative feature of our device. Because it can be worn, scientists can collect quantitative, objective data on certain stress-related diseases. And they can do so in a non-invasive, precise and instantaneous manner over the full range of cortisol concentrations in human sweat.”

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