Wearable Tech – Useful Diagnostics or A Detriment?
With the advent of the latest generations of Apple Watch, wearable technology has taken a huge leap forward. Until the past few years, wearables, especially in the form of a portable EKG was not only extremely expensive but was only available from your cardiologist or medical team. On the surface, it seems as though these new technologies can only add to our health picture; however, it is important that we delve deeper into the issue to understand whether wearables are truly useful or if they make our lives more complicated.
The Usefulness of a Wearable EKG
One of the primary complaints of patients with paroxysmal or occasional cardiac arrhythmias is that their primary care physician has not been able to find the irregular heartbeat. Unfortunately, common diagnostic tools search as an EKG only gives us a snapshot in time and don’t give us information on the heart’s electrical signals over a longer-term period. As a result, if the patient is not an active Atrial Fibrillation or Afib while at their doctor’s office, the EKG may never record it. Unfortunately for these patients, it may take months or even years to get a proper diagnosis. For others, a trip to the ER, with feelings akin to a heart attack may yield a diagnosis of Afib. Either way, not the ideal way to get the diagnosis.
A wearable EKG can offer longer term monitoring of your heart rate and newer devices can even notify you if they find the signs of an arrhythmia. This low cost, low impact 24-hour monitoring gives patients next-level control over the feelings in their chests.
The Downside of Wearables
When it comes to our hearts, we are rightly very sensitive. We, as humans, tend to over-diagnose and catastrophize – just think about how quickly you rush to Google when something feels slightly off. Unfortunately, the answer is often far more nuanced and requires a qualified physician to evaluate symptoms and come to an appropriate diagnosis. Wearable EKG technology tends to promote the often-problematic concept of self-diagnosis – something that we want patients to avoid.
Wearable technology may also trigger a false positive, making patients think that they have an arrhythmia when in fact they simply have a naturally anomalous heart rhythm. Remember, we are all different and this includes our cardiovascular systems. Our heart rhythms also change many times throughout each day. Stress, excitement, sadness, fear, and even hormonal changes can alter our heart rhythms, all of which are perfectly normal.
So, What’s The Answer?
There is, of course, middle ground. If you believe that you experience occasional or paroxysmal arrhythmias, getting a wearable EKG can’t hurt IF you understand its limitations and visit an electrophysiologist to understand more about your circumstance. Most likely, we will be able to review the data from your wearable and suggest a course of action for a proper diagnosis. This may include sending you home with wearable or implantable cardiac monitors including a Holter monitor, event monitor or loop recorder.
Most importantly, visit a qualified physician to get an appropriate diagnosis and start treatment early. The earlier an arrhythmia is treated, the more options you will have and, likely, the better your outcomes will be. We encourage you to schedule a consultation with the qualified cardiologists and electrophysiologists at Huntington Heart Center to learn more.