Smartwatches come loaded with health and activity tracking features. Name any brand of your liking and it will have at least a few options in the health tracking smartwatch segment. The market penetration of smartwatches is at an all-time high because people prefer to be active, and fit to build immunity against viral infections. But do these smartwatches produce reliable results? Are they accurate enough to challenge reports from medically certified equipment?
These are some burning questions that will be answered in this post. You will learn about the ECG measuring capabilities of different top-tier smartwatches, how reliable they are, and can they warn about heart attacks. Read on to know more about the present technology in smartwatches, and if they can help you detect Atrial Fibrillation.
What is ECG and how is it detected by a smartwatch?
An ECG or electrocardiogram measures the heart’s rhythm to check for irregularities if any. It is achieved by placing electrodes on twelve major areas of the body. The results are drawn on a graph which is then studied by the medical expert for the irregularities. It is a procedure that requires time but is the gold standard of detection of heart problems at an early stage.
The implementation in a smartwatch like Apple Watch is different. You just have to place your finger on the crown of the Apple watch and hold it for 30 seconds, to take a reading. This testing style focuses on one point and generates a digital data graph in your companion app. Almost all smartwatches with ECG measuring capabilities use this style, and their data processing algorithms to produce graphs and insights on the present condition.
At the first glance, it looks quite convenient as you can do it in 30 seconds, and visualize the data in the app. No need to visit a medical facility, wait for your appointment, and then undergo a series of tests for the same. But the reality is quite different from what you perceive.
Are all arrhythmias dangerous?
As per the doctors, not all arrhythmia is dangerous and life-threatening. Atrial Fibrillation is fatal and can lead to grave problems if not treated early. Most arrhythmic conditions are benign and nothing to worry about, but some of them require further diagnosis and treatment to clear the clothes pathways and restore normal functioning of the heart.
Difference between results of ECG and smartwatch ECG
The twelve-lead testing bears elaborate results of the heartbeat in different areas of the body. Smartwatches can only measure one lead so the results don’t offer deep insights like the twelve-step one. Doctors can locate the early occurring heartbeat and then investigate further with the twelve-step ECG report. But with the smartwatch ECG, they cannot be precisely sure of where the occurrence of early heartbeats is in the lower chamber. This simple difference in results makes the medical ECG measuring technique more reliable than the smartwatch one.
So, is it a gimmick?
Of course not. Smartwatches, especially the ones which have FDA approval for displaying and measuring ECG. These smartwatches can measure anomalies and present the exact data in the application which can be referenced and used by medical professionals. You may be completely oblivious to the changes in normal heart functioning but the smartwatch can detect that and warn you about the same. It combines the power of the sensors and the AI to make predictions as per the statistical data available to them. The problem lies in the accuracy and the completeness of the statistics measured by the ECG smartwatches.
The doctor’s Take
Doctors have varied opinions on this technology. The most popular one is the actual use case and affordability of an ECG measuring smartwatch in people’s lives. Most users who own such an expensive gadget are fitness enthusiasts and have a decent understanding of the technology. But the actual risk group, which is in the late 40s and 50s, may not be able to purchase the latest version of Apple’s watch or any similarly priced counterpart. The main effort of any healthcare-focused device is to offer economical solutions that are accessible to a large chunk of the target population.
One other major problem in the learning curve of using a smartwatch to keep track of the heartbeat. Senior citizens have a grave risk of strokes and they may find it difficult to learn and understand the readings and perform the ECG measuring steps with their hands. So, an ECG measuring smartwatch may not be of much use to a person who is not accustomed to technology.
Then there is the problem of incomplete readings that aren’t of much use to the doctor. The doctor will still have to conduct the twelve-step ECG to produce a graph that showcases complete data and helps them locate the slow and irregular beats in the lower chamber. Only after that, the doctor can recommend further diagnosis and adjudge if the problem is a benign one, or worrisome. So, if you have to visit the doctor eventually it is better to not waste time in measuring smartwatch ECG and jump to abrupt conclusions.
ECG measuring smartwatches are the most practical implementation of IoT and AI to solve real-world problems. Apple perfected the technology and was the first to get it approved and launched in the market. The implementation is also simple as it did not require a major software upgrade to measure the heartbeat. However, it is too soon to say that it can double up as a real ECG report and if it can produce completely accurate results useful enough for doctors. You can measure the ECG readings and use them as precautionary measures of early detection if you experience irregularities and fatigue. Refrain from procrastinating and jumping to conclusions about your heart without consulting a medical professional. Even doctors are rooting for the technology to improve and fine-tune in the next decade so that it can help in accurate diagnosis of health problems.