A new Stanford University study found that the Apple Watch may be able to detect certain cardiovascular health issues.

By Zee Krstic
March 18, 2019
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Marija Jovovic / Getty

A study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that Apple's wearable gadget, the Apple Watch, correctly alerted users' to an undiagnosed cardiovascular irregularity. Out of 419,093 participants over the course of eight months, Stanford researchers say that the Apple Watch alerted more than 2,000 people (just about 0.5 percent in total) of an irregular heartbeat. The study, which has been presented at the American College of Cardiology's 68th Annual Scientific Session and Expo, was fully funded by Apple and kicked off in November 2017.

According to a press release from Stanford, researchers included participants from all over the country and all 50 states, making it one of the largest in the nation to determine screening efforts for atrial fibrillation. The Apple Watch regularly monitors heartbeats as part of a fitness function, but those experiencing cardiovascular issues were alerted because the Watch sent them a notification.

Those who received an alert were asked to consult one of the study's doctors via a digital consultation and asked to wear an EKG patch to measure cardiac activity throughout the following week. Some of those alerted skipped the virtual check-up and went to their own healthcare providers, and about 57 percent of those notified sought some form of medical attention, Stanford researchers said. Overall, a third of those who were notified actually had atrial fibrillation.

Dr. Mintu Turakhia, the study's lead research, says that a week of EKG monitoring may not have been sufficient enough to correctly diagnose cardiovascular health issues. But if the watch detected an irregular heartbeat while one was wearing an EKG patch, it turned out to be atrial fibrillation about 84 percent of the time.

"The results of the Apple Heart Study highlight the potential role that innovative digital technology can play in creating more predictive and preventive health care," Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, wrote in the press release. "Atrial fibrillation is just the beginning, as this study opens the door to further research into wearable technologies and how they might be used to prevent disease before it strikes."

The Apple Watch uses an optical sensor to analyze pulse rate data-but the newest version, the Series 4 (which wasn't included in the study), also has the ability to take an EKG of the user in just minutes before sending out a report to a healthcare provider. In older models, the Apple Watch will notify users if it detects irregular heartbeats for more than a 48-hour period.

While the research is promising and could lead to further developments by Apple to catch undiagnosed health conditions, many experts say that more research is needed before the medical industry begins to see the Apple Watch as a viable method of screening patients.

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