A huge study suggests the Apple Watch can sometimes detect a worrisome irregular heartbeat — 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 study, making it the largest ever to explore screening seemingly healthy people for atrial fibrillation, a condition that if left untreated can trigger strokes.
Stanford University researchers in the US reported that the watch did not panic flocks of people, warning just half a percent of participants — about 2 100 — that they might have a problem.
However, even among those cases flagged, “it’s not perfect”, according to Dr Richard Kovacs of the American College of Cardiology, who was not involved with the study.
People who received an alert were supposed to consult a study doctor 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% sought medical attention.
Among those who participated in EKG monitoring through the study, a third had atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, according to preliminary results being presented at an American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans.
Stanford lead researcher Dr Mintu Turakhia said a-fib tends to come and go, and a week of monitoring might have missed some cases. But he said if the watch detected another irregular heartbeat while someone was wearing the EKG patch, then 84% of the time it really was a-fib.
Dr Lloyd Minor, Stanford’s dean of medicine, 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.”
Other cardiac experts said the study, which was funded by Apple, suggests screening with wearable technology might be technically feasible eventually, but more research is required.
“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 was not involved with the study.
He said that he would like to see it senior citizens with risk factors like high blood pressure.