How Apple Watch could predict heart attacks in the future

The Apple Watch turns a wearer's heartbeat into something very vivid and visual.
Your Apple Watch could one day warn you of an upcoming heart attack. Photo: Apple
Photo: Apple

The Apple Watch heart rate monitor is far better than everyone thought, and that could theoretically lead to big medical breakthroughs — like the ability to predict heart attacks before they happen.

Developer Brad Larson dug into raw Apple Watch HealthKit heart rate data after a run and compared it to data from a heart rate monitor he had been wearing. The Apple Watch doesn’t have Food and Drug Administration approval as a medical device, but Larson discovered the wearable is nearly as accurate as an electrocardiogram.

Larson comparde Apple Watch to a Mio Alpha heart rate monitor, which is noteworthy for its tested EKG accuracy at performance speeds. The Mio Alpha takes samples every three seconds while Apple Watch grabs one every five, but the readings were nearly identical.

Take a look:


Having an EKG-accurate monitor strapped to wearers throughout the day could be hugely beneficial to the study of heart disease. Patients currently have to go a doctor’s office or hospital to get an accurate EKG reading while running on a treadmill. Accurate EKG data generated throughout a normal day, combined with other metrics, could help researchers understand more about heart performance.

Apple would need to get FDA approval just to show EKG data or to give medical guidance, but medical tech expert Euan Thomson told KQED that if Apple Watch gets the government’s thumbs up to monitor your EKG, software could be used to warn users of a heart attack or stroke days in advance.

Thomson would know, too: His company AlivCor was the first to get FDA approval for a mobile EKG monitor. They’ve also got an FDA-approved algorithm that can detect atrial fibrillation (an irregular, often rapid, heart rate that can cause poor blood flow) from their iOS app.

“We could send an alert to someone who is soon to have a stroke or heart attack if we do enough measurements of an [EKG] and we gather other data points about that person,” Thomson told KQED. “In the next few years, I believe that the industry will be able to spot the characteristics of someone who’s likely to have a heart attack in the next three days.”

Getting that FDA approval would be the hardest part of the process, but Apple has already shown a dedication to making a true impact in medical research with HealthKit and ResearchKit. They secretly included a blood oxygen meter in the Apple Watch that hasn’t been turned on yet, and they’ve hired a team of medical experts. It looks like something a lot more important than counting steps is on the way.

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  • Arch Ange

    How effective is the watch going to actually be when most heart monitoring is done through ECG? Sounds like BS…thankfully I’ve already conquered my heart disease myself with the help of the 3 step heart cure book (here is a review of it here: steamspoils. com/3-Step-Heart-Cure-Review the book is highly recommended.) I still remember when I was ignorant of heart disease, unaware that dizziness and nausea were symptoms. I woke up one morning in April a year ago feeling like someone was pushing down of my chest. I couldn’t get out of my bed. My left arm started to feel heavy, the pain in my chest grew, and I felt an urge to urinate. I had to go to the ER for them to finally tell me I was having a heart attack. They told me I had several blockages and needed a triple heart bypass. I went through the procedure was prescribed a ridiculous amount of meds, as well as told to “eat healthy and exercise often”.But I felt like there was more I could do. That’s when I stumbled on this book and read it cover to cover in one day. The information just made too much sense for me to stop reading. Since adopting the practices of the book, I’m now med and BS technology free. Sorry Apple!

  • Steve R

    The Apple Watch uses light 2 wavelengths of light and an optical sensor to measure heart rate (pulse) at the wrist. This is not analogous to an ECG whatsoever, which measures electrical impulses generated form the heart. In fact, even a basic ECG (such as the one AliveCor provides) has very limited diagnostic power, and certainly has no predictive power when it comes to a heart attack. Basic ECG is useful for A-fib of other glaring arrhythmias, but that’s about it. But Apple Watch does not even do basic ECG- in simple terms, it is basically just watching blood pulse through your wrist and reporting the interval as heart rate. It does this accurately, but devices that do this have been around since the 70’s, and Apple’s is not much different. It tells you your pulse rate and that’s all.

    • Scott Simon

      I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but I think the main point is that this would be the first time that a mass amount of people were wearing these devices all day every day and having the data collected sent automatically to scientists and doctors. Its sort of like Folding@Home….the crowd sourced collection of this type of data could help immensely with research and yes, even prevention down the road. Once the concept is proved, the next versions of Apple Watch (and other similar watches) could include better technology to aid in this goal. It’s absolutely conceivable that in a short amount of years, we could have this data regularly analyzed by researchers or software that flags certain signs in the data and can initiate the process of the patient going to get further checked out by a physican.

  • CarolFAlford

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