July 17, 2024

Smartwatches Show Promise in Detecting Abnormal Heart Rhythms in Children, Stanford Study Finds

A recent study conducted by the Stanford School of Medicine has found that smartwatches can aid physicians in detecting and diagnosing irregular heart rhythms in children. The study analyzed electronic medical records of pediatric cardiology patients receiving care at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health over a four-year period.

Out of the medical records that mentioned the use of an Apple Watch (145 times), 41 patients had abnormal heart rhythms confirmed by traditional diagnostic methods. Among these patients, 29 children were diagnosed with arrhythmias for the first time. This discovery highlights the potential of smartwatches to revolutionize the way physicians care for patients.

Senior study author Scott Ceresnak, a pediatric cardiologist who treats patients at Stanford Medicine, expressed his surprise at how often standard monitoring failed to detect arrhythmias, while smartwatches successfully picked up on them. He emphasized the positive impact that newer technology can have on patient care.

The study’s lead author, Aydin Zahedivash, a clinical instructor in pediatrics, explained that while most of the abnormal rhythms detected were not life-threatening, they could cause distressing symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, dizziness, and fainting.

There are two main challenges faced by doctors in diagnosing cardiac arrhythmias in children. Firstly, cardiac diagnostic devices are still not ideal for pediatric patients, although they have improved over the years. Previously, children had to wear a Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours, which consisted of a device about the size of a smartphone attached to five electrodes on their chest. Now, patients can wear event monitors in the form of a single sticker placed on the chest for a few weeks. However, these event monitors sometimes fall off prematurely or cause skin irritation.

The second challenge is that children’s arrhythmias can be unpredictable, with months passing between episodes. This makes it difficult for doctors to diagnose the condition accurately.

One patient, Connor Heinz, and his family faced both challenges when he started experiencing periods of a racing heartbeat at the age of 12. The adhesive monitor was too irritating, and Connor only had irregular heart rhythms once every few months. Ceresnak suggested using his mother’s smartwatch to record the rhythm the next time Connor’s heart began racing. This approach proved successful in confirming his supraventricular tachycardia diagnosis.

The use of smartwatches for measuring children’s heart rhythms is currently limited by the fact that existing algorithms have not been optimized for pediatric patients. Children have faster heartbeats than adults, and they also experience different types of abnormal rhythms.

The study highlighted the potential benefits of designing smartwatch algorithms specifically based on real-world heart rhythm data from children. This would make smartwatches more effective in detecting arrhythmias in pediatric patients.

The researchers analyzed patients’ electronic medical records from 2018 to 2022, focusing on mentions of the phrase “Apple Watch.” They then checked which patients with these mentions had submitted smartwatch data and received a diagnosis of a cardiac arrhythmia.

Data collected from the smartwatches included alerts about patients’ heart rates and patient-initiated electrocardiograms (ECGs) from an app that uses the watch’s electrical sensors. Physicians can use this ECG data to diagnose different types of heart problems.

Out of the 145 mentions of smartwatches in patient records, 41 patients had arrhythmias confirmed. Among these, 18 patients had collected an ECG with their watches, and 23 patients had received notifications from the watch about a high heart rate.

The information provided by the smartwatches prompted physicians to conduct medical workups, resulting in 29 children receiving new arrhythmia diagnoses. In 10 patients, the smartwatch detected arrhythmias that traditional monitoring methods had missed.

The study also identified smartwatch use in the medical records of 73 patients who did not have arrhythmia diagnoses ultimately. This suggests that smartwatches have the potential to rule out serious conditions in children with palpitations, which are feelings of abnormal heartbeats.

The Stanford Medicine research team plans to conduct further studies to assess the utility of smartwatches for detecting heart problems in children. This study will compare heart rate and rhythm measurements from smartwatches with measurements from standard diagnostic devices.

Although the wearable market is rapidly expanding, smartwatch algorithms need to be reliable and accurate for children, emphasized Ceresnak. The team hopes to aid in the development of pediatric-specific algorithms for monitoring heart rhythm in the future.

It is important to note that the study was conducted without external funding, and Apple was not involved. However, Apple’s Investigator Support Program has agreed to donate watches for the next phase of the research.

Apple’s Irregular Rhythm Notification and ECG app are cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for use by individuals aged 22 or older. The high heart rate notification function is available to users aged 13 or older.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it