Apple Watch, Fitbit make strides in detecting heart problem

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If you’re a fan of the Apple universe, the Apple Watch may have already won your heart.

But did you know it may be able to proactively protect your heart, too?

RELATED: Here’s how you can sweat your way to a $25 Apple Watch

Smartwatches can help detect irregular heartbeats

The Wall Street Journal reports a new study out of the University of California, San Francisco, find the Apple Watch can accurately detect atrial fibrillation when used in tandem with a free app.

Some 2.7 million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation, which is also commonly known as an irregular heartbeat. Left untreated, the condition can cause blood clots and strokes.

Diagnosis of atrial fibrillation complicated by the fact that symptoms often don’t manifest fully until it is too late.

Researchers paired the Apple Watch with a free app called Cardiogram, which is available for both iOS and Android.

By using the two together, they were able to distinguish between atrial fibrillation and normal heartbeats with around 97% accuracy compared to traditional diagnostic tools like electrocardiograms (ECG).

But here’s the rub: This only worked when the subjects were at rest. When subjects were active, the accuracy dropped considerably and lead to both false positives and false negatives.

Researchers called the results “humbling” and said more work is needed.

“We’ve shown a proof of concept that it’s very likely that these commonly worn devices will ultimately be very useful in helping to screen for atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, a UCSF Health cardiologist and senior author of the study, is quoted as saying.

So the takeaway here is don’t attempt to detect atrial fibrillation in yourself using Cardiogram and your Apple Watch just yet. You’ll still need a traditional ECG to do that.

But just know that this is coming down the pike sometime in the future!

Clark’s take on fitness trackers and smartwatches

Money expert Clark Howard has followed the fitness tracker trend closely, starting in 2015 when he first got a Garmin VivoFit fitness band.

“It’s become such a big part of my life. I walk around 5 million steps a year or some 15,000 steps a day on average,” the consumer champ says.

“My wife got a fitness band, too — and then promptly lost it. Wearing one is just not her thing. That’s true of so much of the wearable technology that’s so popular these days. Either you’ll see it and love it…or it will be a big shrug of the shoulders for you.”

How to get the Apple Watch for cheap or even free!

With the Apple Watch starting at $249 for an older Series 1 model, this particular wearable device costs a pretty penny.

Thankfully, there are actually a couple of ways to get one for free or at a deeply discounted rate.

Health insurer subsidies

Beginning in 2016, Aetna announced it would start subsidizing a portion of the cost of an Apple Watch through large employer health plans.

In addition, the insurer also gave 50,000 free Apple Watches to its own employees.

Meanwhile, UnitedHealthCare allows its customers to earn a free Apple Watch by meeting certain activity goals.

Life insurer subsidies

Through its Vitality program, John Hancock lets you get the latest Apple Watch for an initial payment of just $25 plus tax. The caveat? You have to reach your fitness goals.

If you stop working out, you’ll have to pay for the Apple Watch in installments, based on the number of times you don’t exercise.

Meanwhile, if you’re not an Apple person, John Hancock will also instead offer you a complimentary Fitbit through this program.

Speaking of the Fitbit, it’s also making strides toward detecting atrial fibrillation.

Fitbit researchers demonstrated how a new wristband algorithm could also successfully detect atrial fibrillation during last November’s Connected Health Conference.

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Theo Thimou About the author:
Theo has co-written several books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller "Living Large in Lean Times."
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