People with irregular heartbeats who use portable devices such as Apple Watches and Fitbits are not overwhelming doctors with worried conversations about their hearts, a new study shows. But they are more likely to be treated with a heart procedure called ablation, the analysis found.
The tiny study is one of the first to show how people with pre-existing heart problems wear portable clothing. Devices like the Apple Watch have a cardiac monitoring feature that can alert users if they have an irregular heartbeat. Technically, these features on the Apple Watch are only approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people who Do not do it have underlying heart disease. However, people with heart disease, including a type of abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, are still able to buy the watch and use the same features.
Cardiologists regularly see patients who have been diagnosed Atrial fibrillation brings in data from an Apple Watch or Fitbit, says study author Libo Wang, a cardiology fellow at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “There are a good number of patients who use these portable drugs outside of FDA-approved indications,”
When companies like Apple ask the FDA to approve a medical device, most of the focus is on making sure the device does what it promises it can do – without producing too many false positives or negatives. There is less focus on what users and doctors do with the information. This is what researchers are studying Now, this new study took an early look at what wearables can mean for people with atrial fibrillation.
The study looked at 125 people with atrial fibrillation who visited the University of Utah Health over a 90-day period and who mentioned using a portable device including an Apple Watch or a Fitbit. The team compared them to a group of 500 people with the same condition who did not use laptops, but had similar characteristics – including age, socioeconomic status and the number of times they usually visited a doctor.
“The people who were wearing it didn’t necessarily call the office anymore,” Wang said. It was a welcome surprise, he says: many doctors were worried that they would get more calls from worried patients who were wearing a device such as an Apple Watch.
During the 90 days, the group using wearables had a similar average heart rate as the group that did not – indicating that they ended up with approximately the same average heart health. But people with wear and tear had several medical procedures done during the three months. In particular, this group was more likely to have an ablation, a type of procedure that creates scars in the heart to restore a normal heart rhythm.
The study is small, and only looks at patient visits from one hospital. That too can not answer the chicken-or-egg question: it is not clear from this study whether the people who wore and had ablation, actually had more severe symptoms than the control group and needed treatment, or whether the wearers pushed them to see a doctor too early.
It may be that people with heart disease who decide to buy an Apple Watch do so because they feel more symptoms and want a good way to label it to a doctor, Wang says. “It may be appropriate, and they may benefit from the ‘extra’ ablation.” Alternatively, patients could watch their flag flag abnormal heart rhythms and worry about atrial fibrillation getting worse – even when it is not. “It can be a waste of time and risk for the patient,” he says.
Previous research found that Apple Watch’s heart function led to unnecessary doctor visits for people who did not have an underlying heart disease. Only 10 percent of the people who visited their doctor after receiving a warning from their watch continued to get a new heart diagnosis, a study found.
There is more data on wear in people without underlying conditions than people with underlying conditions, because that is the group Apple Watch’s heart monitor was originally tested on. But cardiologists need more information about what the devices mean for people with atrial fibrillation, says Wang – these patients are already using them, and some doctors are even encouraging patients to use one. He hopes further research can provide more decisive answers. “We need more clarification.”