Apple watches at a store in Chicago.
INTERNATIONAL - The Apple Watch was able to detect irregular heart pulse rates that could signal the need for further monitoring for a serious heart rhythm problem, according to data from a large study funded by Apple Inc demonstrating a potential future role for wearable consumer technology in healthcare.

Researchers hope the technology can assist in early detection of atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common form of irregular heartbeat. Patients with untreated AF are five times more likely to have a stroke.

Results of the largest AF screening and detection study, involving more than 400 000 Apple Watch users, were presented at the recent American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.

Of the 400 000 participants, 0.5%, or about 2 000 subjects, received notifications of an irregular pulse. Those people were sent an ECG (electrocardiography) patch to wear for subsequent detection of AF episodes.

A third of those whose watches detected an irregular pulse were confirmed to have AF using the ECG technology, researchers said.

About 84% of the irregular pulse notifications were later confirmed to have been AF episodes, data showed.

“The physician can use the information from the study, combine it with their assessment and then guide clinical decisions around what to do with an alert,” said Dr Marco Perez, one of the study’s lead investigators from Stanford School of Medicine.

The study also found that 57% of participants who received an alert on their watch sought medical attention.

For Apple, the data provides firepower as it pushes into healthcare. Its new Series 4 Watch, which became available only after the study began, so was not used, has the ability to take an electrocardiogram to detect heart problems and required clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Lloyd Minor, the dean of Stanford School of Medicine, said the study “opens the door to further research into wearable technologies and how they might be used to prevent disease before it strikes”.

- Reuters African News Agency (ANA)