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Expert assessment: can the new Apple Watch detect heart disease?

Expert assessment: can the new Apple Watch detect heart disease?


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Cardiologists on the new ECG functions of the Apple Watch 4

The new Apple watch includes technology to monitor heart function. An integrated ECG function provides the wearer with information about the heart rhythm and can draw attention to changes and thus recognize heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation at an early stage. An American study examined the reliability of the watch. German cardiologists are now commenting on the new health-related functions and have published an initial assessment of how trustworthy this form of heart control actually is.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of irregular heartbeat. This cardiac fibrillation can indicate heart disease and is associated with an increased risk of stroke. If the atrial fibrillation is detected early, it can be treated very well. The new Apple watch (Watch 4) can monitor the heart function with the help of an integrated optical pulse sensor and an electrical sensor and thus warn of irregularities. But is this technology really reliable? Experts from the German Society for Cardiology (DGK) provide information.

Recognize cardiac fibrillation on the wristwatch?

The new Apple Watch 4 can detect an irregular heartbeat via ECG functions. In combination with an EKG app for the smartphone, the watch can perform and record a 1-channel ECG. "The aim of this app is to detect an irregular heart rhythm early, which indicates atrial fibrillation," reports Professor Dr. med. Thomas Deneke, spokesman for the Rhythmology working group of the DGK and chief physician of the Clinic for Interventional Electrophysiology of the Cardiovascular Clinic in Bad Neustadt.

Initial preliminary examinations confirm the reliability

"Preliminary examinations actually show that there is a 95 percent agreement with the atrial fibrillation detected by Smart Watch and clinically documented atrial fibrillation," report the DGK experts. The Apple Watch 4 can thus be a valuable monitoring tool for establishing important information for patients and their doctors, according to Professor Deneke.

The interpretation of the measurement results carries risks

The app is supported by the American Heart Association. A first American study confirms the reliability, however DGK cardiologists urge caution. "Even though initial studies support the reliability of the device, there are risks involved in interpreting the measurement results," the cardiologists explain in a press release.

Not currently fully recommended

"The Apple Watch 4 is constantly expanding its range of services from fitness applications to medical questions, such as the current detection of atrial fibrillation," adds Professor Dr. Peter Radke, Chairman of the DGK's Electronic & Mobile Health Committee. He considers further studies on reliability to be absolutely necessary. According to the professor, it is currently not yet possible to rely on atrial fibrillation detected by the Apple Watch 4 and to base treatments on this diagnosis.

Approved as a medical device in America

The "Food and Drug Administration", the American approval authority for medical devices, recognizes these technologies for monitoring health-related information. As a safeguard, there are nevertheless safety instructions in the instructions for use that the results of the EKG app must always be clarified by a doctor.

No substitute for a doctor's visit

"The Apple Watch should not be used as a substitute for a visit to the doctor, but rather can help to record relevant cardiac rhythm data and to support a medical doctor in diagnosis," said Professor Deneke.

This is the judgment of the cardiologists

"Overall, the Apple Watch offers an interesting option for monitoring possible heart rate abnormalities and can support patients with known cardiac arrhythmias in the aftercare," summarize the heart experts. Users should be aware that there is still a need for medical assistance. This applies in particular to risk patients. It has not yet been clarified whether the app is approved in Germany by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). The EKG app is not yet mentioned on the German product page. (vb)

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