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By Kiersten Willis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren for Hometown Hall

We may not always recognize it, but burnout can creep in when we’re dealing with high-stress situations constantly. That’s especially been the case amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not new.

Dealing with the stresses of life and work can lead to burnout, but it also causes our bodies to produce cortisol, the “fight-or-flight” hormone meant to let you know you’re in the presence of danger.

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Cortisol’s presence is also something you likely don’t notice. However, a new study reveals that this hormone can be detected in your sweat, thanks to a contraption developed by engineers at Switzerland research institution Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and its Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory and Xsensio.

Measuring the hormone is important as Adrian Ionescu, head of Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory, known as Nanolab, said in a press release that “in people who suffer from stress-related diseases, this circadian rhythm is completely thrown off.” Cortisol is typically secreted according to circadian rhythm during the day. It peeks between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. before slowly dropping off throughout the day.

“And 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,” Ionescu added.

The team at Nanolab developed a small wearable sensor that can be placed on a patient’s skin to continuously monitor their cortisol levels.

At this point, there hasn’t been any other system developed to measure cortisol during the circadian cycle to this extent.

“That’s the key advantage and innovative feature of our device,” Ionescu said. “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.”

Next, the team plans to get these devices to healthcare workers for use in trials for patients with Cushing’s syndrome, which involves the body producing excess cortisol, Addison’s disease, which involves too little cortisol production, and stress-linked obesity.

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