A giant study sponsored by Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has found that the Apple Watch can sometimes spot patients with irregular heart pulse rates. These irregular pulse rates could signal the need for further monitoring for a serious heart rhythm problem. Kenneth Mahaffey, a cardiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, chaired the study. The results are being presented at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans.
The Apple-sponsored trial was one of the largest heart-screening studies ever. More than 400,000 people participated in the study, which allowed people to participate without ever visiting a doctor in person. If the watch detected repeated periods of irregular heart pulse rates, patients got alerts to call in for a virtual consultation.
According to the researchers, roughly 0.5 percent of patients in the study received notices from their watch indicating irregular heart pulse rates. Of the patients who got notifications and agreed to wear a portable electrocardiogram for up to a week, roughly 34 percent were found to have atrial fibrillation, the most common form of irregular heartbeat. Because atrial fibrillation can come and go, that result doesn’t necessarily mean that the other 66 percent didn’t also have the condition.
Researchers hope the watch’s sensors can assist in the early detection of atrial fibrillation. People who have atrial fibrillation are at a higher risk of blood clots and are five times more likely to have strokes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that atrial fibrillation is responsible for 750,000 hospitalizations and contributes to 130,000 deaths annually. Atrial fibrillation can go undiagnosed because it doesn’t always produce outward symptoms.