Apple Watch saves lives, may detect health conditions, experts say

By @iamkarlatecson on
Apple Watch
The Apple Watch Reuters/Stephen Lam

A teenager from Massachusetts in the U.S. claims the Apple Watch saved him from a life-threatening condition after it alerted him that his heart rate was much higher than normal. Experts suggest that the device and other wearables could potentially identify changes in people’s heart rates that might indicate serious health problems, as reported by LiveScience.

According to high school student Paul Houle Jr., he felt back pain after two football practices on the same day but did not pay much attention to it. However, after being warned by the Apple Watch that his heart rate was 145 beats per minute, which is around double his normal rate, Houle decided to inform his athletic trainer about it. Houle was immediately taken to the emergency room after an exam and was later diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscles release a protein that damages the kidneys and other organs.

“Doctors told me that if I had not said anything and [had] gone to practice the next day, I very easily could have died,” Houle said in an interview with Huffington Post.

Despite this incident, people should be reminded that the Apple Watch is not a medical device and cannot be used to diagnose heart conditions, said Dr Allen Taylor, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. He noted, though, that because the device monitors heart rate, it may be used to notify users about health problems that should be evaluated.

Similar to a fever, he said a high heart rate could be a symptom of many conditions, which is why the watch cannot be used for a diagnosis by itself. For certain conditions, however, if patients find their heart rates are running faster than normal, the Apple Watch could alert them to say something is not right.

A heart rate monitor, such as those featured in Apple Watch and other wearables, can also detect other health conditions such as atrial fibrillation or an erratic heartbeat, anemia or a low red blood cell count and overactive thyroid. It may also be useful for patients who are undergoing medications to prevent a rapid or erratic heart rate, so their doctors can monitor if the treatments are working, Taylor suggested.

A new app for the Apple Watch, called AirStrip, can also allow doctors to see a patient’s vital signs, according to Dr Ragavendra Baliga, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He claimed that with AirStrip, doctors could adjust a patient’s medications of people with heart failure.

Taylor cautioned that a normal heart rate does not mean one is not sick, citing that heart rate monitors cannot detect if one is having a heart attack. Despite this, he said wearables may revolutionise how patients think about their health, such as in terms of detecting conditions early, monitoring illnesses or simply having greater self-awareness of their wellness.

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