How this woman’s smartwatch detected her hidden heart arrhythmia

Wearable devices and smartwatches have many practical uses, but did you know they can help detect heart problems lurking beneath the surface?

75-year-old Elizabeth Turner loves gadgets — a love that may have saved her life. Her daily workouts include weights and circuit training, yoga, Zumba and playing golf with her husband, all of which she tracks with her smartwatch. However, during a recent personal training session, her elevated heart rate was not recovering like it usually does. Her normal circuit training maximum heart rate is 140 beats per minute (BPM) but her heart rate during this training session was 180 BPM and not budging. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum heart rate for a person 70 or older is 150 BPM.

Related: When you should worry about an irregular heartbeat

Elizabeth’s smartwatch alerted her to the elevated heart rate, and she knew something was wrong. She visited her primary care physician, who ran several tests and ruled out a heart attack. Her doctor recommended that she closely monitor her heart rate over the next few days. Elizabeth knew the latest version of her smartwatch was capable of capturing electrocardiogram (EKG) tests through an app, so she went out and bought the newest device the very next day. She ran several EKG tests over the weekend.

On the following Monday morning, she emailed the results to her doctor, who then referred the files to Praveen Rao, MD, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas. The EKG results indicated her resting heart rate was well above normal levels.

“I’m so happy my smartwatch caught my irregular heart rhythms,” she said. “I knew something was wrong but didn’t realize I was having AFib complications.”

It turns out that Elizabeth was experiencing episodes of atrial fibrillation (AFib), all recorded by her smartwatch.

AFib, also known as an arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications if not treated properly. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. With symptoms ranging from heart palpitations and chest pain to nausea — or even no symptoms at all — this condition can be difficult to diagnose.

Related: Is your heart racing from anxiety or an arrhythmia?

According to Dr. Rao, Elizabeth’s smartwatch made the difference in her potentially lifesaving treatment. Thanks to catching this condition early, Elizabeth was able to have corrective surgery to avoid future blood clots or a stroke. Read more about how her wearable device expedited her diagnosis.

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“Due to the use of this wearable technology, we were able to diagnose her condition more quickly and expedite her treatment,” Dr. Rao said.

Elizabeth is thankful her smartwatch was able to detect this abnormality and hopes other people will take advantage of technology’s ability to play a role in their health.

“I’m so happy my smartwatch caught my irregular heart rhythms,” she said. “I knew something was wrong but didn’t realize I was having AFib complications.”

Whether it’s an odd reading from your smartwatch or just a nagging feeling that something is off, never ignore those red flags. Talk to a doctor today if you’re worried about your heart.

About the author

Matthew Olivolo
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Matthew Olivolo is a senior marketing and public relations consultant for Baylor Scott & White Health. He is a former U.S. Marine journalist and communications professional. When he isn’t writing, he competes in Ironman triathlon races across the country.

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How this woman’s smartwatch detected her hidden heart arrhythmia