Apple Watch may be useful in diagnosis of AFib, study finds

An app on the watch correctly identified the serious heart condition with 84 percent accuracy, researchers report.

By Brian P. Dunleavy
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the Apple Watch's ability to monitor pulse may be useful in identifying atrial fibrillation. File Photo by fancycrave1/Pixabay
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the Apple Watch's ability to monitor pulse may be useful in identifying atrial fibrillation. File Photo by fancycrave1/Pixabay

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Smartwatches may be the latest tech craze, but they could also be useful in monitoring heart health, according to a new study analyzing user data collected by the devices with significant accuracy.

Stanford University researchers report in the study, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, that more third of Apple Watch users were identified as having atrial fibrillation, or AFib, based on data collected by the device.


The researchers assessed the ability of a watch-based irregular pulse notification app to identify possible atrial fibrillation in more than 400,000 users. Although just 2,100 of participants received notifications of irregular pulse, 34 percent of them were found to have AFib, as confirmed by subsequent electrocardiogram tests.

Overall, the authors found the app could predict the condition with 84 percent accuracy.

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"The advent of wearable technology has prompted important questions about its potential use in improving health care," study co-author Marco Perez, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, told UPI. "The study found that the technology can safely identify heart rate irregularities that subsequent testing confirmed to be atrial fibrillation."


According to the American Heart Association, atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is "a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications." More than 2.7 million Americans are living with the condition, the organization says and Perez called it a leading cause of hospitalization in the United States.

Participants in the study who received an irregular pulse notification from their Apple Watch received follow-up care with an electrocardiography patch, which is designed to continuously monitor electrical impulses generated by the heart, for one week.

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During the one-week monitoring period, study participants' Apple Watches continued to monitor them for pulse irregularities. Presence of AFib was confirmed simultaneously with the ECG patch in 84 percent of those that had an irregular pulse detected by their watch.

"The study's findings will help patients and clinicians understand how devices like Apple Watch can play a role in identifying this deadly disease," Perez said. "They also lay the foundation for further research into the use of emerging wearable technologies in clinical practice and demonstrate the unique potential of large-scale app-based studies."

"Atrial fibrillation is just one example of wearable technology's ability to detect health conditions, and we can look ahead to many other areas of preventive medicine," Perez added.


The research was part of the Apple Heart Study, a series of studies initiated by the tech giant to assess the value of its devices in the diagnosis and management of various health conditions.

Apple on Thursday announced three new projects -- Heart and Movement, Women's Health and Hearing studies -- which, like the AFib study, will be conducted in partnership with leading academic and research institutions. Interested Apple users can enroll in the multi-year longitudinal studies using the company's new Research app, which can be downloaded from the App Store.

"Today marks an important moment as we embark on research initiatives that may offer incredible learnings in areas long sought after by the medical community," Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Participants on the Research app have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact that could lead to new discoveries and help millions lead healthier lives."

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