Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. During an episode of AFib, the heart’s two upper chambers start beating in an irregular manner, leading to heart palpitations, weakness, and shortness of breath. Those with the condition have an increased risk of heart failure, blood clotting, dementia, and stroke. AFib can be particularly dangerous because in many cases, sufferers experience no symptoms at all.
If AFib can be detected in its early stages, it can be treated properly and many of its complications can be avoided. But since the condition doesn’t always come with symptoms, how can one find out if they have it without making routine visits to the doctor?
Numerous companies are developing technology for this exact purpose. Some of the biggest tech corporations have already released innovative wearable gadgets that can be used to detect atrial fibrillation.
Apple is one of these companies: In late 2018, the tech giant released an app for their line of Apple Watch products that allows the wearer to monitor their heart rate. The app, called ECG (electrocardiogram), provides the user with an accurate reading of their heart rate and alerts them of any abnormalities. It can also be set up to run in the background, monitoring the wearer’s heart rate at all times and notifying them if there’s cause for concern.
The effectiveness of the Apple Watch was put to the test in a two-year long study of 420,000 people, which launched in 2017. The participants’ heart rates were monitored using Apple Watch technology, and over the span of 8 months, 2,161 of them were found to have an irregular heart rate. 34 percent of them were subsequently diagnosed with AFib. Researchers concluded that the Apple Watch had an 84 percent positive detection rate, meaning the watch could be used to accurately detect AFib in individuals–asymptomatic or otherwise.
In September 2019, iRhythm (a wearable health monitor company) announced their partnership with Verily (a health company owned by Alphabet.) Their goal? To develop a new technology to detect irregular heartbeats. Specifically, to help people at risk for AFib (who may be asymptomatic) detect the condition as early as possible. Other than that, the two companies declined to share any further details about the project, but it’s likely their product will come in the form of a wearable device.
“The technology is intended to help diagnose, manage, and eventually treat patients,” said Kevin King, CEO of iRhythm, in a statement. “There are certainly under consideration wearable devices, and there might be apps,” he added.
These new technological developments are exciting news for those with heart conditions and anyone with medical problems in general should look forward to what the future has in store for us in the coming years.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld