Smartwatches can detect abnormal heart rhythms in children: Study


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San Francisco, CA   

A recent study from the Stanford School of Medicine suggests that smartwatches can assist medical professionals in identifying and diagnosing abnormal heart rhythms in children. The results are based on an analysis of electronic health data for children with heart conditions who are being treated at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. The study was published in Communications Medicine.

In the course of four years, 145 times, “Apple Watch” was cited in patient medical records. Of the patients whose medical records referenced the smartwatch, 41 had irregular cardiac rhythms that were verified using conventional diagnostic techniques; 29 of these kids received a diagnosis for the first time for their arrhythmias.
“I was surprised by how often our standard monitoring didn’t pick up arrythmias and thewatch did,” said senior study author Scott Ceresnak, MD, professor of pediatrics. Ceresnak is a pediatric cardiologist who treats patients at Stanford Medicine. “It’s awesome to see that newer technology can really make a difference in how we’re able to care for patients.”

The study’s lead author is Aydin Zahedivash, MD, a clinical instructor in pediatrics.Most of the abnormal rhythms detected were not life-threatening, Ceresnak said. However, he added that the arrythmias detected can cause distressing symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, dizziness and fainting.

Doctors face two challenges in diagnosing children’s cardiac arrythmias, or heart rhythm abnormalities. The first is that cardiac diagnostic devices, though they have improved in recent years, still aren’t ideal for kids. Ten to 20 years ago, a child had to wear, for 24 to 48 hours, a Holter monitor consisting of a device about the size of a smartphone attached by wires to five electrodes that were adhered to the child’s chest. Patients can now wear event monitors — in the form of a single sticker placed on the chest — for a few weeks. Although the event monitors are more comfortable and can be worn longer than a Holter monitor, they sometimes fall off early or cause problems such as skin irritation from adhesives.

The second challenge is that even a few weeks of continuous monitoring may not capture the heart’s erratic behavior, as children experience arrythmias unpredictably. Kids may go months between episodes, making it tricky for their doctors to determine what’s going on.

Connor Heinz and his family faced both challenges when he experienced periods of a racing heartbeat starting at age 12: An adhesive monitor was too irritating, and he was having irregular heart rhythms only once every few months. Ceresnak thought he knew what was causing the racing rhythms, but he wanted confirmation. He suggested that Connor and his mom, Amy Heinz, could try using Amy’s smartwatch to record the rhythm the next time Connor’s heart began racing.

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