Home » Cardiology » The power of wearables in the future of heart health

Dr Tony Faranesh

Research Scientist, Fitbit

How continuous heart rhythm assessment technology could help smartwatch wearers assess their risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib is a common irregular heart rhythm, which can significantly increase a person’s risk of stroke. It occurs when the upper chambers (the atria) beat rapidly and are out of sync with the lower chambers (the ventricles). People living with AFib face a higher risk of blood clots and heart attacks with a fivefold increase in the risk of stroke.

Understanding the heart condition

AFib is hard to detect as it can be without symptoms and is intermittent. In the UK, AFib impacts around 1.4 million people. This number is likely to be an underestimate as many people are unaware they have the condition and remain undiagnosed.

AFib is more common in older people and those with other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. However, it can also affect people with no medical conditions, including those who are very physically fit.

Symptoms to look out for

Potential symptoms of AFib may include palpitations, shortness of breath, tiredness and dizziness. Some people are also asymptomatic, especially in the early stages. They may be completely unaware of their irregular heart rhythm and the health problems it can cause.

Studies published by the Lancet suggest that as many as 25% of people who have an AFib-related stroke only find out they have the condition after a stroke; others may only find out after a routine medical check-up or when they eventually present with symptoms. Most people living with AFib will progress from having paroxysmal (intermittent) AFib to a persistent or permanent form.

The NHS Long Term Plan, released in 2019, aims to prevent 150,000 strokes, heart attacks and dementia cases over the next ten years. To complement this, the National CVD Prevention Leadership Forum (CVDPSLF) has set targets for the detection of AFib, blood pressure and cholesterol (ABC), which are related high-risk conditions.

Digital progression in heart health – accelerating early detection of AFib with wearables

Dr Shouvik Haldar

Consultant Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist

“Too many people are still living with undetected and/or untreated atrial fibrillation (AFib),” Dr Shouvik Haldar, Consultant Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist, comments. “Early detection of AFib is critical, particularly in those over the age of 65, as timely treatment and management can slow disease progression and reduce symptoms that impact the quality of life and the likelihood of a debilitating stroke.

“One of the criticisms of research assessing the ability of wearables to detect AFib is that there is a disproportionate representation of younger patients who are adept at using digital health devices and are often referred to as the ‘worried well.’ However, there is potential benefit even in this group as detection of AFib should be seen as an early warning, prompting the adoption of healthier lifestyle behaviours.”

Advancing heart technology

Fitbit pioneered the use of heart rate tracking on the wrist with PurePulse technology. Heart rate tracking technology can play a key role in helping detect AFib.

The optimal time to screen for heart rhythm disturbances such as AFib is when the body is at rest. Recent advances in heart rate tracking technology mean some wearables can now assess for signs of AFib in a way that is accessible, convenient and non-intrusive. Fitbit’s Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications has received CE marking and clearance from the FDA.*

Too many people are still living with undetected and/or untreated AFib.

Information everywhere you go

The trackers or smartwatches with the feature monitor for signs of an irregular heart rhythm that may be AFib.** Heart rhythm data is collected in the background while users are still or asleep to check for heart rhythm irregularities that may be signs of AFib. This is done by detecting changes in the volume of blood flowing in the wrist through the PPG sensor.

If multiple readings show signs of an irregular heart rhythm, users will get a notification in the app. This enables people to discuss this information with their doctor or healthcare provider to be evaluated further.

Many in the UK may be living with undiagnosed AFib.

New irregular heart rhythm tracking technology could help people understand their personal health and make them aware of when they have an irregular heart rhythm that may be AFib.

Additionally, having access to their heart health metrics could empower people to get medical advice if needed and hopefully improve lifestyle behaviours. This could help reduce their chances of potentially serious health consequences such as persistent symptoms or even a stroke if they do have AFib.

The term ‘disruptive technology’ is used often these days, but wearable technology to detect AFib is truly disruptive as it challenges the traditional hospital-grade ECG detection tools for AFib detection — patients now come to the hospital with heart rhythm data. We are only just realising the potential capabilities of wearable technology — there is a lot more innovation to come.”


Dr Shouvik Haldar

Consultant Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist

With the feature now available in the UK on a range of Fitbit devices, advanced heart health technology is becoming more accessible and convenient.**

You can learn more about how Fitbit can help detect AFib at www.fitbit.com/global/uk/technology/irregular-rhythm

 *The Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature isn’t designed to detect heart attack, blood clots, stroke or other heart conditions. The Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature is not intended for use by people under 22 years old or with known atrial fibrillation. Results may not be accurate in people who take medication or substances that affect heart rate or blood flow. Only a healthcare professional can diagnose AFib. Smartwatch users are advised not to change medication or any health regimen without talking to their healthcare professional. 
**Feature is not available on all Fitbit devices. It is currently available on Charge 5, Charge 4, Luxe, Sense, Sense 2, Versa 2, Versa 3, Versa 4, Inspire 3 and Inspire 2. 

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