Apple Watch Detected my Atrial Fibrillation. I Thought “WOW”

Personal experience and some features of the Apple Watch.

Photo by Daniel Cañibano on Unsplash

Watching the launch of the new Apple watch series 5, back in 2019, I wondered if this watch could really detect AFIB? The short answer is YES. The long answer will include which Apple series watch can do this. How accurate. What about the ECG?. Palpitations and other irregular heartbeats? Can it take your blood pressure?

I have some personal experience to share.

WHICH APPLE WATCH CAN DETECT AFIB?

According to a study done by the Stanford University School of Medicine, the watches that they used were the Apple watch series 1,2, and 3. The most recent series 4 was not used because it was not launched yet. The Apple watch series 5 was launched on 20 September 2019.

For this study, the participants also had to have an iPhone. The Apple Heart Study app was used to intermittently check the heart-rate pulse sensor for measurements of an irregular pulse rate.

Obviously, the Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 will also be able to detect AFIB.

My resource page has a link to Amazon if you want to buy an Apple Watch.

HOW ACCURATE IS THE APPLE WATCH IN DETECTING AFIB?

In a very interesting study done by Dr Daniel Yazdi of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he came to the following conclusion ” For the vast majority of individuals under age 55 whose Apple Watches tell them they have atrial fibrillation, the odds are high that the watch is wrong. But it is more accurate for the aging population that is becoming a part of the wearable generation.”

For people over the age of 55, the picture changes drastically, and the watches become “more accurate”

Ages 55 to 59–62% accurate

Ages 60 to 64–76% accurate

Ages 65 to 69–86% accurate

Ages 70 to 74–91% accurate

Ages 75 to 79–94% accurate

Ages 80 to 84–96% accurate

Ages 85+ 96% accurate

If you are older than 55 it is definitely not a bad idea to get something like an Apple Watch or Alivecor to help you detect if you have AFIB, or get “spells” of AFIB. I would however not put all my trust in a device and would go to an ER or doctor if I suspect that I have AFIB(Atrial Fibrillation).

If you are an Afibber like me, who goes without being in AFIB for periods of 4 years or sometimes only a few months I thought it will be wonderful to get an Apple Watch that tells me I’m in AFIB or not.

CAN THE APPLE WATCH DO A ECG

The ECG app can generate an ECG (Electrocardiogram). You have to launch the app and then hold your finger against the Digital Crown of the watch. It will then send a circuit of electrical signals across your heart in order to monitor for unusual heart rhythms.

You can buy the Apple Watch Series 6 here, the series 5 here, or the series 4 here. It will help my website because I get a small referral commission at no extra cost to you.

According to what I’ve read it will only be the Apple Watch 4 and 5 that will be able to do an ECG. It is because of the “crown” of the Apple Watch 4 and 5 (the small button on the right side of the watch) that has electrical heart sensors and the others don’t have it.

CAN THE APPLE WATCH MEASURE BLOOD PRESSURE?

Yes, but the Apple watch series 4 cannot do it on its own. The only accurate way to measure blood pressure, to date, is to stop the blood flow in your veins, usually on the upper arm, by “cutting off” blood flow, by inflating the cuff, and then deflating the cuff and listening to the changes in the arteries.

So if you want to use your Apple watch to measure your blood pressure you have to connect a medically validated blood pressure monitor such as the QardioArm.

CAN THE APPLE WATCH TRACK HEART RATE AND PALPITATIONS?

Yes, the Apple Watch sends notifications that can include the following.

“High Heart Rate, Your heart rate rose above 120BPM while you seemed to be inactive for 10 minutes starting at 10:20”

“Low Heart Rate Your heart rate fell below 40 BPM for 10 minutes starting at 10:20”

With the ECG rapid or skipped beats can be detected. Very important to note is that it will only be detected if it occurs in the timeframe that the ECG was taken.

For a better understanding of rapid or skipped beats, a doctor may attach a Holter monitor(it’s nothing to do with an Apple Watch) on you that will record your heartbeat for a 24 hour or longer time frame.

CAN THE APPLE WATCH MEASURE BLOOD SUGAR?

Yes, the Apple Watch can monitor your blood glucose levels. But for now, it cannot do it alone. The watch has to link wireless to a body sensor which you wear around your abdomen. It is called the DexCom Glucose monitor.

ADDITIONAL “HEALTH” FEATURES?

NOISE PROTECTION

The Apple Watch will warn you if you are in an area that has noise levels that may damage your hearing. Available with the software update WatchOS 6.

MENSTRUATION TRACKING

Cycle Tracking is the name that Apple gave for you to track your menstruation cycle. You can log in your symptoms, see when your next period is, and also then track when you ovulate if you’re trying to conceive.

ACTIVITY TRACKING (THE RINGS)

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

Many fitness watches and wearable devices have activity tracking and there is a lot of focus on steps. Well, the Apple Watch does not forget about steps, it still does that, but it gives more info with the three rings.

Move Ring: The red outer ring tracks your active calories burned each day. This gives a general sense of how much you move around during the day. It includes your walks and something like a bike ride.

Exercise Ring: The green ring tracks exercise. Exercise in this sense is indicated and defined as any movement that is at or above a brisk walk in intensity.

Stand Ring: This ring, the blue one, will remind you to stand up and move around. The goal is to stand up and move around for at least 12 hours each day.

The aim is to “close” a ring because that will signify that you have reached your goal. A fun animation will then celebrate your achievement.

LONG-TERM ACTIVITY TRENDS

Only available with the WatchOS 6, it tracks your activity levels in the last 90 days and then compares it to the previous 365 days in order to see how your fitness has improved or…… we don’t hope to deteriorate.

WORKOUT TRACKING

Real-time stats for your exercise sessions. That may include but is not limited to run, walk, swim, row, hike, or yoga. With running there are a few other metrics like pace alert, rolling mile, and cadence.

There are 12 different options in the Workout App, these include walking, running, and cycling but also other workouts like hiking, stair stepper, and yoga.

AUTOMATIC WORKOUT DETECTION

If the Apple Watch senses that you begin with a workout it gives you an alert and asks if you want to start your tracking. When you respond you can also then choose your workout type.

FALL DETECTION

The Apple Watch 4 and 5 have fall detection. If you fall you will get an “It looks like you’ve taken a hard fall.” alert message. You can then initiate a call to the emergency services, or dismiss the alert. According to Apple, if you are then unresponsive after 60 seconds the emergency call will be placed automatically, and your emergency contacts will then be notified and sent to your location.

Fall detection will require some sort of cellular service to reach the outside world. This can be through the paired iPhone if it is in Bluetooth range, or direct from the Apple watch if it is the LTE version.

BREATHING APP

This app leads you through a series of calming breaths. Taking these moments throughout the day is very important to reduce your stress levels and also important for your overall health.

SLEEP TRACKING

It is not “built-in” in the Apple Watch 4 or 5. You can, however, download an app that will help you with that.

You can buy the Apple Watch Series 6 here, the series 5 here, or the series 4 here. It will help my website because I get a small referral commission at no extra cost to you.

CAN THE APPLE WATCH DETECT A HEART ATTACK?

No. If you think you are experiencing a heart attack call the emergency services immediately.

CAN YOU SWIM WITH AN APPLE WATCH SERIES 4?

Yes, you can but only shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean are recommended. Scuba diving, water skiing, or other activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth is not recommended with the Apple Watch 4.

MY EXPERIANCE

Last year I had an awefull “heart year” my heart went out of rhythm 5 times. The first 4 times it was in Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB), and the last time in Atrial Flutter.

Just after I felt my 4th AFIB “attack” my daughter’s Apple watch came to mind. You know how you buy better stuff for your children than for yourself? Well I only have the entry level Garmin FR35 (it cannot detect AFIB).

My Garmin FR 35 showing my average and current heart rate.

The Garmin helps me a lot with my cycling. On the watch I can monitor my heart rate and on the app on my phone I can check many other facts about my heart rate. I must say remember it is a entry level watch and I have found that it is not 100% accurate all the time especially when I start training.

Data from my Garmin FR35

Fortunatly my daughter was spoiled and I could use her phone. It immediately detected the Atrial fibrillation.

My daughters Apple Watch detecting my AFIB

I was 49 last year and I read the study that the Apple watch is more accurate for people over 55, but it worked for me. When my heart was in Atrial Flutter the watch showed “inconclusive”

SUMMARY

Apple takes care to mention that the app(that creates the ECG) is not a diagnostic tool and also not something to “play” with all the time. You are supposed to use it when you feel symptoms like skipped beats, fast or slow heartbeat. Also, use it when you get a notification from the watch about your fast or slow heartbeat.

If you can buy it why not? Over 55? a good investment in your health. Previously diagnosed with AFIB? Definitely a very very good investment in your health and future.

You can buy it on my resource page.

I am not a doctor, and I do not give medical advice. I’m a person who was born with a CHD called Tetralogy of Fallot. I have suffered from AFIB and during my journey experienced one open-heart surgery, 8 cardioversions, and an ablation. AFIB has not reduced me to living a “small life”. I endeavor to manage it wisely by applying what I learn about it.

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