Apple Watch could help detect signs of atrial fibrillation, a leading cause of strokes

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Date: Friday, May 12th, 2017, 05:41
Category: Apple Watch, Hardware, Health, News, Wearables

This could be helpful, if not potentially life-saving.

A team of researchers just proved that the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor can actually detect an early sign of heart disease without any symptoms at all, a development that could change how people use their Apple Watches.

The sensor can accurately detect atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rate that can lead to stroke or heart disease. While atrial fibrillation can be caused by a variety of factors, including high blood pressure, this doesn’t qualify the Apple Watch as a diagnostic device. Still, its accurate heart rate sensor shows there is potential for the watch as a health and fitness tool beyond its basic fitness-tracking features.


Developers of the Cardiogram app worked with researchers from the University of California San Francisco’s Health eHeart study and Apple’s ResearchKit to develop their own app, known as “mRhythm”. On Thursday, Cardiogram and UCSF’s cardiology division presented the results of that 14-month study, which collected more than 100 million heart rate data points from more than 6,000 Apple Watch users. Cardiogram developed a machine learning-powered algorithm that can detect atrial fibrillation, which is often asymptomatic.

Cardiogram’s algorithm was tested against a current in-hospital test known as “cardioversion”. Patients experiencing atrial fibrillation, which typically affects one in four humans in their lifetime and causes 25 percent of all strokes, wore an Apple Watch during cardioversion tests to compare outcomes. Both segments, the cardioversion test and the Apple Watch’s heart rate data, were blinded against whether the patients’ heart rates were normal or abnormal, then sent to Cardiogram’s algorithm. In the end, the Apple Watch data detected atrial fibrillation 97 percent of the time.

Basically, the beats per minute as displayed on the watch screen may not be precise, but the sensor can accurately detect irregularity in those beats.

While this is fairly major, Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated that Apple isn’t interested in submitting the Apple Watch for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would significantly slow down the speed of hardware development. But Cardiogram’s Brandon Ballinger said he’s interested in testing the algorithm his team has developed more extensively and eventually submitting it for FDA approval, so Cardiogram’s watch app will be able to alert users when they should see a doctor.

Cardiogram’s current watch app uses your heart rate data to offer lifestyle insights, as other health apps do. But in the not-too-distant future, health apps like Cardiogram could become that much more accurate and powerful.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Via Macworld

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