How to diagnose a heart attack with a smartwatch

Spanish cardiologist Miguel Ángel Cobos has designed a method for an Apple Watch to be able to perform advanced electrocardiograms.

Mujer con un Apple Watch
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The unstoppable advance of new technologies has led to a revolution in the area of health as well. Amongst the multitude of applications and devices capable today of monitoring our activity, smartwatches have an advantageous position, which increasingly incorporate features in disease prevention.

Many efforts of the designers of these devices are concentrated on heart ailments, since it is the type of disease that causes the most deaths and the greatest loss of quality of life. Some good examples are the Apple Watch models four and five, which are able to make simple electrocardiograms (ECG) with the electrodes they incorporate in their rear crystals.

When the watch fell into the hands of Miguel Ángel Cobos, a cardiologist at the Hospital Clínico San Carlos in Madrid, he discovered that he could achieve even more. Thanks to the method he has devised, three measurements of the smartwatch are enough to achieve results almost identical to those of a conventional electrocardiograph, which requires 12 measurements. These correspond to what are known as derivations, that is, seen from the heart from different angles.

In September 2018, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, announced the new feature of his smart watches, the Apple Watch. Theoretically, they only detect atrial fibrillations, a type of arrhythmia, but their utilities can be expanded.

With these guidelines, a device of just 30 grams becomes a tool that, in addition to being manageable, is as reliable to diagnose heart attacks. The user with symptoms could quickly transmit their records to a medical professional trained to interpret them.

In order to create an automatic ECG, Cobos proposes to follow these simple instructions:

Derivation D1. It is for which the device is designed. We place it on the left wrist and touch the crown with a finger of the right hand. We hold on with this gesture for 30 seconds, and the ECG is sent to the cell phone.

D2 shunt. We put the watch on one leg and press it again with a finger of the right hand. Thus obtaining the information of what is happening in the heart from top to bottom.

Bypass D3. We placed the Apple Watch on the left edge of the sternum, in the area of junction with the ribs. With the back of the clock against the thorax, we play again with the right hand to obtain a measurement very similar to the D2.

In the future, the mobile devices themselves may provide guidance on the results of an ECG carried out using this method. According to Cobos, artificial intelligence systems would alert users to the need to see a doctor.

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