Your Apple Watch could save your life

It can detect an irregular heartbeat -- known as atrial fibrillation -- or AFib.

Fred Bodimer
March 27, 2019 - 1:24 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — A new study shows an app on your Apple Watch could save your life by detecting an irregular heartbeat -- known as atrial fibrillation -- or AFib.  
This study was unveiled at the recent American College of Cardiology gathering in New Orleans.

"So this is a fascinating study that is a completely new way to do medical research," said SLU Care's Dr. Michael Lim, a cardiologist at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.  "The study was made available to anybody to sign up if they had an Apple Watch and they wanted to download an app on their iPhone.  And so in a very quick amount of time, 400,000 people signed up to participate in this study that would utilize the watch's technology to see if that was a good use to detect abnormal heart rhythms, especially atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Lim attended this convention in New Orleans where the study was presented.

"Atrial fibrillation in itself can be a big-time problem," said Dr. Lim.  "It is the most common heart rhythm problem we see in medicine.  And it can be a big-time problem because it can increase your risk for having a stroke.  So certainly, we'd like to do anything possible to prevent that stroke before it happens."

So did the Apple Watch help identify possible cases of a-fib?

"It was able to detect atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Lim.  "But it also had what we would call some false positive alarms, meaning the Apple Watch would send an alarm to the wearer saying 'hey you may be having atrial fibrillation, you should contact your physician or the study center.'  And sometimes that didn't hold true to be the case.  But in other ways, it actually did detect afib that was a-symptomatic -- which means the person would not had known about it in any other way."
Dr. Lim calls this new type of wearable technology a really helpful screening tool.

"These wearable technologies that consumers can get like the Apple Watch have the ability to impact our health and we are just scratching the surface on being able to really take advantage of this technology," said Dr. Lim.  "Several of my colleagues have been contacted by a patient saying 'hey, I've noticed that on my watch or on my FitBit my heart rate is awfully fast and I'm unsure about that.'"
Better awareness is the key.

"There are things now that make people more aware of how many steps they walk, or how many miles that they travel on a daily basis and what their heart rates are and whether they're keeping on track with being active enough and contributing to their own health," said Dr. Lim.  "Maybe they've fallen off track but now they have a way of monitoring how well they get back into it. "