Smartwatches and fitness trackers with heart rate sensors have made it easy to keep tabs on your ticker without seeing your doctor. But they’re starting to do a lot more than just track your data. The Apple Watch already lets you know when it detects a spike in heart rate, and the company’s newest Series 4 Watch will be able to take an electrocardiogram(EKG or ECG) to help screen for serious medical conditions like AFib that increase the risk of stroke. And other wearable makers like Fitbit and Garmin may not be too far behind. Both are developing similar screening features for AFib and sleep apnea.
Potential limitations of tracking technology still stand in the way, but the end goal of these companies is to elevate heart rate trackers from workout buddy to medical device.
Using your heart
There are different ways to measure heart rate. Medical professionals use an EKG machine, which records the electrical signals generated by the contraction of the heart muscle through a series of electrodes placed on the chest and limbs of the patient. A physician then uses this information to detect abnormalities in the rhythm and structure of the heart. Changes in the electrical pattern can also be used to diagnose a heart attack.