Published: Thu, March 21, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Apple Watch may spot irregular heartbeat, but more research needed

Apple Watch may spot irregular heartbeat, but more research needed

Because its symptoms are often minor - shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness and palpitations - many cases of atrial fibrillation go undiagnosed, which is a driving factor behind Apple's decision to conduct this study.

Apple and Stanford created the study to evaluate Apple Watch's irregular rhythm notification, which occasionally checks the heart's rhythm in the background and sends a notification if an irregular heart rhythm appears to be suggestive of atrial fibrillation (AFib). This is a significant step towards wearable healthcare devices says Apple. Concomitantly, the study had also added that 57 percent of participants, who received an alert sought for medical attention and 84 percent of irregular pulse notifications were confirmed to have an episode of Atrial Fibrillation following ECG.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine presented preliminary results of the Apple Heart Study, a virtual study with over 400,000 enrolled participants, at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 68th Annual Scientific Sessions, March 16-18 in New Orleans.

While some consumers would complain about its outdated style, the Apple Watch may be winning hearts in the medical field, figuratively and literally. A huge study suggests the Apple Watch sometimes can detect a worrisome, irregular heartbeat. Although the first phase of the study, which began in November 2017, was only open to selected applicants, Apple began actively recruiting participants a few months later, ultimately opening it to anybody who wished to participate.

Examples of the notifications that participants in the Apple Heart Study receive. That's not something that many off-the-shelf products like a watch are capable of claiming, and Apple is understandably proud of what it has achieved with the Apple Watch so far.

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.

Some within the medical community believe there is much optimism as there were 419,000 participants, which is quite higher than most medical research studies.

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The study did not include the use of the most recent Apple Watch, which features a built-in ECG.

There was concern among cardiologists at the conference that the Apple Watch would have limited appeal for clinical use, considering the starting price at $279.

After a video consultation on their device, the doctor then decided whether the participant should wear an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for follow-up monitoring.

Apple is expected to release the Apple Watch 5 later this year.

Nevertheless, the data is reasonably encouraging to Apple and Stanford Medicine.

Dr Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who was not involved in the trial, called it an important study as a use of this type of wearable technology is only going to become more prevalent.

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