Home >technology >gadgets >Wearables for heart health: Can they help save your life?

New Delhi: Rahul Kumar, a 31-year-old software engineer at a Noida-based multinational uses Xiaomi’s Mi Band 2 to keep track of his heart rates and sleep quality. He is pretty excited about this new crop of wearables that can provide more heart health-related information. Kumar is planning to upgrade soon to a wearables that can read electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood pressure.

Indeed! Modern day smartwatches and fitness bands have now also begun keeping a tab on how your heart is functioning with the help of in-built sensors or electrodes.

The recently-announced Apple Watch 4, for instance, has built-in electrodes to measure a user’s ECG or EKG, a test used by medical professionals to examine the electrical activity in the heart beat.

How these work

In the Apple Watch 4, which has been certified by US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the electrodes are placed on the back panel touching the wrist and the digital crown. Users have to hold their finger on the crown for 30 seconds and wait for the electrodes at the base and crown to get an ECG reading, which will be displayed on the ECG app on the watch screen. Based on the reading, the Watch 4 will also tell if the heart beat was irregular.

Apple is not the only company that is experimenting with heart health monitoring. US-based medical device company, AliveCor, also has announced a smartwatch with six lead ECG reader. It has already received FDA approval. Closer home, Indian company Smartron has a wearable called t.band. Priced at 4,999, it uses two light sensors at the base for tracking heart rate and a flat metal sensor next to the screen on top to measure blood pressure and ECG. The front sensor uses ECG electrodes while the back sensors use photoplethysmograph (PPG) electrodes to measure the pulse wave transit time (PWTT). There are bands such as the Lenovo HX30F Spectra ( 2,999) that can only measure blood pressure using optical sensors placed at the base.

Are these just gimmicks?

During blood pressure reading, we noticed slightly lower readings from both Lenovo and Smartron bands, when compared to a medically approved blood pressure machine. Smartron claims that the t.band only gives indicator readings with a variation of 5 to 10 points compared to a medical equipment.

For ECG readings, doctors use 12 lead test involving 10 sensors placed at multiple points to get a reading, unlike the Apple Watch 4 which uses two electrodes for a single lead ECG test. However, there are studies which suggest that single lead recorders can also be used to carry out 12-lead recordings in a sequential manner.

For instance, a study by Dr James Grier, Department of Biological Sciences at the North Dakota State University, suggests that wearable gadgets with a single lead based recorders can be used by individuals for routine monitoring of their daily heart condition.

“Medical tests which are used by doctors and hospitals to assess heart health are the most accurate and reliable," says Subhash Chandra, chairman and head of Cardiology department, BLK Centre for Cardiac Sciences, BLK Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi. He simultaneously acknowledges that these advanced wearable gadgets “come with years of research and development (R&D) and can be very useful for quick and urgent assessment".

Chandra concludes, “I would recommend such wearable gadgets to my patients."

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