Apple Watch app could save your life by detecting irregular heartbeat, study says

Agency, 18 March : Has a new bar been set for wearable technologies? An Apple Watch may detect heart rate irregularities that subsequent medical tests confirm to be atrial fibrillation, according to preliminary findings from a new study. AFib is often undiagnosed since it might not cause noticeable symptoms, but it contributes to 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

New results from the Apple-funded study, which have not been published or peer-reviewed, were presented Saturday at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session in New Orleans.

“The study’s findings have the potential to help patients and clinicians understand how devices like the Apple Watch can play a role in detecting conditions such as atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Mintu Turakhia, co-principal investigator and associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford Medical School, said in a statement.

Turakhia and his colleagues conducted a virtual study with more than 400,000 participants to understand whether a mobile app using data from a heart rate pulse sensor can identify atrial fibrillation.

Participants had both an iPhone and an Apple Watch, though not the most recent version, which features built-in electrocardiography (ECG), because it was released after the study’s launch.

Intermittently, a special app checked each participant’s heart-rate pulse sensor for an irregular pulse, and if it was detected, the participant would receive a notification and was asked to schedule a telemedicine consultation with a study doctor. Next, the participant would be sent ambulatory (walking) ECG patches to record the rhythm of their heart for up to a week.

The findings suggest how wearables might help to detect conditions before they strike, the researchers say.

Overall, only 0.5% of participants received irregular pulse notifications indicative of possible AFib. This is important, the researchers say, given concerns about potential over-notification — a kind of false positive. And about a third (34%) of the participants who received irregular pulse notifications and followed up were found to have atrial fibrillation.

Comparing the irregular pulse detection on Apple Watch with the longer-duration ECG patch recordings, the Apple Watch’s pulse detection algorithm showed a 71% positive predictive value; in other words, only 29% of those participants given a warning had received a false positive.

Finally, 57% of those who received irregular pulse notifications sought medical attention, the study showed.
“The performance and accuracy we observed in this study provides important information as we seek to understand the potential impact of wearable technology on the health system,” Dr. Marco Perez, co-principal investigator and associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford Medicine, said in a statement.

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