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How an Apple Watch Might Save Your Life

* The smartwatch is 97 percent effective at detecting atrial fibrillation
* Condition can only be diagnosed with an EKG
* Heart rate may also predict diabetes, other diseases

If the GOP zoinks your healthcare, an Apple Watch may be your best shot at detecting atrial fibrillation. The Verge reports that Apple Watches can diagnose the common heart condition with 97 percent accuracy.

Apple Watches use Cardiogram, a heart rate monitoring app. The Health eHeart Study by the University of California, San Francisco and Cardiogram included over 6,000 participants, 200 of whom had already been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Cardiogram used the data from that study to develop an algorithm that predicts the condition, says co-founder Brandon Ballinger.

Atrial fibrillation, or afib, is an irregular heartbeat condition that occurrs when the heart’s two upper chambers don’t beat in sync with its two lower chambers. People with afib face an increased risk of heart attacks, kidney disease and dementia says UCSF professor Greg Marcus. The Apple Watch breakthrough is important because symptoms of afib, like shortness of breath and heart palpitations, can go unnoticed — if they present at all.

Even if symptoms do present, they may be intermittent. That makes it difficult to detect the irregularities. When people do see a doctor, they’re often just sent home with continuous-wear devices such as the Zio patch or Lifewatch. Unfortunately, says Marcus, those devices only work for a few weeks. Implantable devices, such as Medtronic’s Linq, are invasive. That makes wearing a watch they already own an attractive alternative.

The Apple Watch with Cardiogram can continuously monitor heart health without any effort on behalf of the user. As promising as the news sounds, there’s much more work to be done. “I think it’s unlikely that, at least in the next few years, this sort of algorithm is sufficient to make a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation,” says Marcus. “It will be very useful to screen, but the diagnosis will still require confirmation using a conventional EKG.”

For its part, Cardiogram is exploring how heart rate data can be used to detect other maladies. “There’s a little evidence that even areas like diabetes can show up in heart rate data and there are other conditions, too,” says Ballinger. “The interesting thing about the heart is, because it’s connected to the autonomic nervous system, it provides a window into your entire internal organ system, so the sky’s the limit.”