Apple Watch owners with irregular heart rhythms might be in luck.
Apple and Stanford University are partnering on a health study to collect heart rhythm data and potentially notify users who may have atrial fibrillation, a common cardiac disorder that makes the heart beat irregularly and have poor blood flow.
Atrial fibrillation is the leading cause of stroke and often goes undiagnosed. AFib, as it is commonly abbreviated, leads to more than 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the United States every year.
Apple wants to help catch AFib for its watch users before it’s too late.
“This might seem like a simple study, but we think this is a really special time,” Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said in an interview with CNBC. “Hopefully we can save a lot of lives.”
The Heart Study app is available for U.S. adults over the age of 22 for all three series of the Apple Watch.
Here is how the technology works, according to Apple: The watch’s sensors shoot green LED lights that flash hundreds of times a second and emit light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the blood flow in the wrist.
The sensor collects blood flow from four points in the wrist, and the heart rhythm is isolated from other blood flows and noises through the use of artificial intelligence.
If the app detects abnormal heart rhythm, the app alerts the user and sets up a free consultation with a study doctor and an electrocardiogram patch for additional monitoring. The study is being administered by the Stanford School of Medicine.
The Heart Study app is Apple’s latest venture into wearables that help detect common disorders. In September, Apple was chosen alongside Samsung and Fitbit by the Food and Drug Administration in a trial program allowing the companies to skip certain regulations to expedite innovation. Fitbit has been working on sleep apnea with its wearables internally.
But third-party startups are harnessing the powers of existing wearables for their research as well. A study from the University of California, San Francisco, and a health startup called Cardiogram this month found that Apple Watch and Fitbit may already accurately diagnose common health issues such as hypertension and sleep apnea.
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