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Apple Watch can detect heart conditions, says major study

Research by the University of California, San Francisco suggests fitness trackers can help diagnose potentially fatal heart arrhythmias.

Forget counting steps -- your wearable might be able to diagnose a serious health condition.

Many of us use fitness trackers as motivational tools to keep us moving, and to monitor our progress over time. But what if that sensor-packed Apple Watch or Fitbit on your wrist could actually help diagnose a potentially fatal heart condition? It's possible, according to app developer Cardiogram.

In a joint study published today, Cardiogram and researchers at the University of California, San Francisco relied on the Apple Watch -- and Cardiogram's algorithm -- to gather heart rate and electrocardiogram data from 6,158 individuals. Their goal? To determine if the Apple Watch's sensors can differentiate between a normal heart rhythm and atrial fibrillation (AF).

Apparently, it can; the study identified AF with 97 percent accuracy.

Atrial fibrillation is a serious heart arrhythmia, associated with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke. While sufferers can experience heart palpitations and tiredness, AF is often asymptomatic and therefore difficult to diagnose. Although the results of the study were promising, it doesn't mean we should implicitly trust our wearables and apps to diagnose health conditions.

"While mobile technology screening won't replace more conventional monitoring methods, it has the potential to successfully screen those at an increased risk and lower the number of undiagnosed cases of AF," said Gregory M. Marcus, director of clinical research for the Division of Cardiology at UCSF.

This study also marks a possible shift in the role of smart tech in our lives. Today's camera-equipped fridges inventory our food, smart beds track our breathing and heart rates and our wearables keep track of how we exercise. If these everyday devices can also serve as diagnostic tools, we might start to see a more holistic approach to health and wellness in the smart home.

An Apple representative did not have anything specific to share about Cardiogram, but directed me to a Johns Hopkins University study, which detailed findings about detecting potential seizures with the Apple Watch.

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