Your Apple watch is now a medical device. The new series 4 model includes an electrocardiogram (ECG) approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In less than 30 seconds users can get an accurate picture of the electrical signals in their hearts. "This is huge," said Nassir Marrouche, MD, a cardiologist with University of Utah Health. "This device will empower patients to monitor their heart health and seek help when it is needed."
Previous versions of the Apple watch have tracked pulse rate. However, this new version can also detect low heart rate and irregular heart rhythms. Those irregular rhythms could signal atrial fibrillation - a common heart problem that often goes undetected. "Some atrial fibrillation patients may not have any symptoms so they are unwittingly at a higher risk for stroke and heart attack," said Marrouche. "This technology could alert them before they suffer a serious complication."
The technology also can be helpful for patients who suspect they have a heart issue but have not yet been diagnosed. They may be experiencing symptoms like dizziness or shortness of breath, but have nothing uncovered during a doctor's appointment. "A device allows patients to collect data that could lead to a diagnosis," said Marrouche. "It also could help patients who have been diagnosed with heart issues track their condition for follow up visits."
It is important though to remember that while the new Apple watch may be able to detect irregular heart rates it should not replace your doctor. There are many cardiac conditions that cannot be detected through an ECG - like heart attack. "Patients need to be careful not to self-diagnose," said Marrouche. "If you think something is wrong with your heart it is always in your best interest to see a doctor - and not simply trust your watch."