health

Apple Watch may spot heart problem but more research needed

More than 419,000 Apple Watch users signed up for the unusual study

A huge study suggests the Apple Watch can detect a worrisome irregular heartbeat at least sometimes — but experts say more work is needed to tell if using wearable technology to screen for heart problems really helps.

More than 419,000 Apple Watch users signed up for the unusual study, making it the largest ever to explore screening seemingly healthy people for atrial fibrillation, a condition that if untreated eventually can trigger strokes.

Stanford University researchers reported Saturday that the watch didn’t panic flocks of people, warning just half a per cent of participants — about 2,100 — that they might have a problem.

But even among those flagged, “it’s not perfect,” cautioned Dr. Richard Kovacs of the American College of Cardiology, who wasn’t involved with the study.

People who received an alert were supposed to consult a study doctor via telemedicine and then wear an EKG patch measuring cardiac activity for the next week to determine the watch’s accuracy. Some skipped the virtual check-up to consult their own doctors; overall, about 57 per cent sought medical attention.

Among those who got EKG monitoring through the study, a third had atrial fibrillation, according to preliminary results being presented at an American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans.

A-fib tends to come and go, and a week of monitoring might have missed some cases, said Stanford lead researcher Dr. Mintu Turakhia. But if the watch detected another irregular heartbeat while someone was wearing the EKG patch, 84 per cent of the time it really was a-fib, he said.

“This study we believe provides very encouraging evidence that a device, the Apple Watch, can be used to detect a-fib and to point out to people when additional monitoring or testing may be needed,” said Dr. Lloyd Minor, Stanford’s dean of medicine.

Other cardiac experts said the study, which was funded by Apple, suggests screening with wearable technology might be technically feasible eventually, but needs lots more research.

“I would not advise this to the overall general population,” said Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart in New York and a former American Heart Association president, who wasn’t involved with the study. Instead, he’d like to see it tested in seniors with risk factors like high blood pressure.

What is atrial fibrillation?

A-fib occurs when the heart’s top chambers, called the atria, get out of sync with the bottom chambers’ pumping action. Sometimes patients feel a flutter or a racing heart but many times they’re not aware of an episode.

Sometimes the heart gets back into rhythm on its own. Other patients get an electric shock to get back into rhythm, or are prescribed blood thinners to counter the stroke-causing blood clots that untreated a-fib can spur. A-fib causes 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S.

How do doctors check for it?

A-fib is most common in older adults, and other risks include high blood pressure or a family history of arrhythmias. But routine screening isn’t recommended for people without symptoms. Studies haven’t yet proved that early detection from screening would prevent enough strokes to outweigh risks from unnecessary testing or overtreatment.

How does the Apple watch check for it?

A mobile app uses the optical sensor on certain versions of the watch to analyze pulse rate data. If it detects enough variation from beat to beat over a 48-hour period, the user receives a warning of an irregular heart rhythm.

The latest version of the Apple Watch also allows wearers to push a button to take an EKG and share the reading with doctors. Saturday’s study didn’t include watches with that capability.

Does the new study show mass screening is a good idea?

No. The study was designed to tell how the watch compared to a week of standard EKG monitoring — not if the wearer’s health improved because the screening uncovered the arrhythmia. To prove if detecting a-fib early lowers risk of stroke would require years of study.

And since the study didn’t have a comparison group getting routine EKGs, there’s no way to know if the watch missed heartbeat problems, giving a false sense of security, Kovacs said.

The puzzling low numbers of alarms might be because most participants were young or middle-aged, not the seniors who are most at risk for a-fib, he said.

Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Rock slide forces rural Keremeos residents to leave their homes

Witness describes boulders bigger than her car

BREAKING: Highway 3 near Keremeos closed due to rockslide

Highway 3 just west of Keremeos is closed as of 8:44 p.m.… Continue reading

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: goodbye sun, hello rain

Environement Canada forcasts clouds and rain for the weekend and beyond

Pieces of Penticton’s history up for auction at 4th Meridian

Collectors have the chance to own vintage ads, books, sketches and more

Penticton student looks to give back in wake of New Zealand terrorist attack

Hussain Sattar, a Grade 12 student at Princess Maggie of Muslim faith, discusses coming together

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

Judge Inez Cardinal sentenced Jaskirat Singh Sidhu to eight years

2 fires in Victoria caused by cigarettes prompts warning from deputy fire chief

Two separate fires caused by cigarette butts were avoidable

Kelowna youngsters grab tournament win in U.S.

The Kelowna Storm won the under-8 Shamrock Showdown Hockey Tournament in Spokane

Wildlife activists slam B.C. business, clubs for ‘wolf-whacking’ contests

Chilcotin Guns, Creston Valley Rod and Gun Club and West Kootenay Outdoorsmen Club under fire

UPDATE: Destructive blaze in West Kelowna

A unit of a condo complex is on fire in West Kelowna

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Pet Planet picks up Okanagan’s cannabis for pets

True Leaf Medicine International expands retail distribution to 3,500 stores worldwide

AquaVan comes to Okanagan Science Centre

200-litre mobile touch tank allows you to get up-close with marine invertebrates

Most Read