Smartwatches and other wearables make monitoring our fitness levels easier than ever.
Now researchers at UCL are suggesting these devices can do much more – they could tell you years in advance if you’re at risk of serious heart problems.
This could be life-changing news for millions of people at risk of heart failure and irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia.
What did the researchers do?
In the study, the researchers looked at rapid heart scans, called electrocardiograms (ECGs), from 83,000 people. These EKGs are of the same type as smartwatches.
Doctors typically use many sensors and a long test to measure your heart’s electrical activity, but smartwatches make it much easier. They only use one sensor and only take about 15 seconds.
The researchers paid particular attention to extra heartbeats in the EKGs. While these extra beats are often harmless, too many of them can be a sign of future heart problems.
They found that people with an extra beat in the short record were twice as likely to develop heart problems, such as heart failure or atrial fibrillation, over the next 10 years.
Why is this a big deal?
Heart failure and atrial fibrillation are serious health conditions. With heart failure, your heart can’t pump blood as well as it should, making you tired and short of breath.
Atrial fibrillation causes an irregular heartbeat and can even lead to a stroke. These conditions are often difficult to manage and can severely impact your quality of life.
But what if you could know you were at risk long before you felt any symptoms? That is the promise of this study.
Early warning could allow doctors to keep a closer eye on high-risk patients and offer advice on lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, to help prevent these conditions.
The researchers used machine learning — a type of computer program that can learn from data — to quickly and accurately identify those extra beats.
Next steps include validating these results with another data set and investigating how wearable devices can best be used for large-scale heart health studies.
This could revolutionize the way we deal with heart disease.
Rather than waiting for symptoms to appear, we could be proactive and take preventive action, reducing the burden of these serious diseases on both individuals and the healthcare system.
So the next time you check your steps or calories burned on your smartwatch, remember that these wearables could soon be saving lives by detecting heart risks long before they become critical health problems.
If your heart health is important to you, please read studies showing that vitamin K helps reduce the risk of heart disease by a third and that a year of exercise can reverse worrisome heart failure.
For more information on heart health, see recent studies on dietary supplements that may prevent heart disease and stroke. The results show that this food ingredient can greatly increase the risk of death from heart disease.
The study was published In European Heart Journal – Digital Health.
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