Home » Cardiology » Wearable technology is driving innovation to help better manage heart health

Nicola Maxwell

Director, Health Solutions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Fitbit

Eric Friedman

VP Research and Co-founder, Fitbit

Analysing the heart’s rhythm through wearable technology on your wrist is enabling a more accessible way to check for signs of AF.

According to the World Health Organization, heart disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide, despite being one of the most preventable conditions.[1] Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common irregular heart rhythm and can increase the risk of serious complications like stroke.[2] It affects around 1.6 million people in the UK and increases the risk of stroke by five times compared to the general population.[3]

Catching the condition early and treating it appropriately can prevent approximately two-thirds of AF-related strokes.[4] However, estimates show that around 500,000 people are living with undiagnosed and untreated AF in the UK.[5]

Improving health management with technology

Advancing technology is changing the way people can manage their heart health, giving them more control and enabling earlier diagnosis. Wearable devices are known for being motivational tools that track activity levels, help facilitate positive health behaviour change and have continued to evolve by now bringing technology to users that was previously accessible only in healthcare settings.

Wearable technology is now at the forefront of heart health management, with advanced functionality being integrated across health wearables, such as integrated sensors and ECG apps that make it accessible and easy to assess your heart for AF. 

Electrocardiogram (ECG) is a measurement of the electrical activity of the heart, and such apps are a simple way people can take an on-the-spot reading of their heart rhythm at any time, including whenever they notice any unusual cardiac symptoms.

On-device ECG apps use the sensors on compatible smartwatches to allow the user to record the electrical signals from their heart and classify them as AF or normal sinus rhythm. The Fitbit ECG app has already received CE Marking in the EU and FDA clearance in the US. 

“Helping people understand and manage their heart health has always been a priority for Fitbit, and I’m incredibly excited that we are making these innovations accessible to people around the world to help them improve their heart health, prevent more serious conditions and potentially save lives.” says Eric Friedman, VP Research and Co-founder, Fitbit. “Early detection of AF is critical, and in addition to our spot check technology using ECG, we’re advancing our AF research to also look at more continuous heart rhythm tracking using sensor technology that runs in the background, as both have important roles to play in managing potential AF.”

More continuous heart rhythm tracking from photoplethysmography (PPG) technology, tracks the pulse directly from a user’s wrist. This could give users the ability to identify asymptomatic AF that could otherwise go undetected.To continue to build evidence for the use of this technology, a large-scale virtual clinical trial, the Fitbit Heart Study, was conducted, and enrolled more than 455,000 participants in the US. Results from this study will be used to support regulatory submissions globally for its more continuous heart rhythm assessment.

Nicola Maxwell, Director of Fitbit Health Solutions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa says: “Since we first brought heart rate tracking to the wrist, we have continued to innovate and provide users with a deeper understanding of their heart health. By providing these powerful consumer tools, we are making it easier for the consumer to choose to share relevant data with their health care provider. With the development of this technology and our continued advancements, as well as our partnerships in the healthcare ecosystem, we are hopeful about the role Fitbit can play in the early diagnosis of AF, ultimately helping to tackle the rising rates of heart conditions in the UK.”

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
[2] https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/atrial-fibrillation
[3] https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/research/atrial-fibrillation-the-big-picture
[4] https://www.bhf.org.uk/for-professionals/healthcare-professionals/blog/2019/atrial-fibrillation-finding-the-missing-300000
[5] https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2017/may/thousands-of-people-undiagnosed-with-irregular-heartbeat-increasing-risk-of-stroke and https://www.bluecrestwellness.com/healthy-living/500000-people-in-the-uk-have-an-undiagnosed-irregular-heartbeat

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