Smart watches continue to get smarter, especially when it comes to health and fitness tracking. And, more and more people are wearing them. As of early 2020, it was estimated that roughly one-in-five adults in the U.S. regularly reported wearing a smart watch or fitness tracker to monitor things like heart rate, blood pressure, and steps taken throughout the day.

One trend that our CTVS cardiothoracic experts are always tracking themselves is a smart watch’s ability to detect signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib) which could ultimately lead to heart failure. Earlier detection of AFib could help physicians recommend quicker treatment in order to avoid a serious consequence.

What is atrial fibrillation?

AFib is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that could cause blood clots, stroke, or heart failure in severe cases.  According to the American Heart Association, at least 2.7 million Americans are affected by AFib.

Once diagnosed, AFib should be closely monitored, and if necessary, can be treated with surgery or implantable medical devices.

According to CTVS’ board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. William Kessler, “one of the big focuses now in congestive heart failure is early detection before people get short of breath and gain a lot of fluid weight and end up in the hospital.”

This is where smart watches come in.

Dr. Kessler is enthusiastic that “companies like Apple are getting more sophisticated technology that allows people to monitor their heart rate throughout the day.”

How do smart watches track atrial fibrillation?

Some specially designed smart watches are equipped with ECG (electrocardiogram) sensors built-in to continuously check heart activity via the wrist.

Apple has conducted studies over the past few years evaluating whether or not these sensors can positively detect irregular heartbeats. While the outcomes for gaining accurate results in detecting AFib are positive and headed in the right direction, many experts agree there is still work to do in sharpening this technology.

A new study is underway with Apple and Canada’s University Health Network to evaluate the efficacy of remote monitoring via a smart watch and identifying worsening heart failure.  The smart watches are programmed to collect data from rigorous heart monitoring tests that are typically performed in person in a clinical setting.

The promise of having this immediate access to potentially life-saving data that is useful in preventing heart failure is very exciting for many physicians.

Another CTVS board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Hunter Kirkland, says “it’s always a good thing when we get more real time data than less. It’s going to take a little time to correlate the day-to-day data collection with the meaningful outcomes, but I think this technology is going to be pretty revolutionary down the road.”

If you have concerns about heart arrhythmia or any other cardiothoracic condition, please or call us at (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certifiedspecialists.

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