Your Watch Could Save Your Life


The watch you wear every day can do more than make sure you are on time for your appointments. If you are wearing an Apple Watch, it can also detect a life-threatening irregular heartbeat.

Apple has been promoting the wearable technology as a health-monitoring device for a few years, but a recent study by Stanford Health and Apple showed that data from the Apple Watch can detect atrial fibrillation with a high rate of accuracy.

Dr. J. Christian Hays, Electrophysiologist for the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, says, “This study is very exciting. Atrial fibrillation, or AFIb, is a disease that many people don’t realize they have. For wearable technology to detect AFib with 84% accuracy, this could potentially save lives.”

AFib is a leading cause of stroke and hospitalization in the United States. Every year approximately 750,000 people are hospitalized for AFib, and it is believed more than 700,000 people go undiagnosed each year.

Stanford Health and Apple Conduct a Study on Irregular Heart Rhythm

Earlier this year, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine released preliminary results of a large virtual study, which showed that an Apple watch can identify heart rate irregularities that subsequent testing confirmed to be AFib. The study had more than 400,000 participants.

Of the 400,000 participants, only 0.5% received irregular pulse notifications. Of those that received notifications, 84% were found to be in AFib at the time of the notification. Since the study began, Apple has made more improvements to the heart monitoring capability. The newest model was has a built in ECG to record your heartbeat and rhythm and send automatic alerts if irregular heart rhythm is detected.

Dr. Hays explains, “Some people may just feel tired and fatigued. Because they attribute those symptoms to something other than an irregular heartbeat, they don’t get it checked by a doctor. This watch is a game changer because it can detect the irregular rhythm with such accuracy.”

What is AFib?

AFib is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. AFib is caused by a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system.

When a heart beats in normal rhythm, an electrical impulse flows from the top of the heart to the bottom of the heart, allowing the heart to pump blood through the body. When a person has AFib, the electricity flows irregularly causing the upper and lower chambers of the heart to be out of synch and beat at an excessively high rate and in an irregular way. This irregular heartbeat causes poor blood flow through the heart and to the body.

“The poor blood flow during AFib can cause a clot to form and the clot can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke,” Dr. Hays describes.

AFib can often go undetected. In some people, it is silent and does not cause symptoms. When symptoms are reported, they include:

  • Palpitations—racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats or a flopping in your chest
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath at rest or with exertion
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Inability to exercise
  • Chest pain

Treatment for AFib

“The disability associated with AFib can be profound, because of the progressive nature of the disease,” says Dr. Hays. “If a simple wearable technology can alert you to irregularities, you can get treatment sooner.”
With the right treatment, Afib patients can live active, healthy lives. Treatment options include:

  • Medications
    • Rhythm control medications
    • Beta-blockers
    • Blood thinners
  • Cardiac ablation
  • Implantable devices such as a pacemaker

If you think you have an irregular heartbeat the St. Elizabeth Arrhythmia Center can help. Call (859) 331-3353 for more information or to schedule an appointment.