Fitbit searching for ways to detect irregular heartbeat

Fitbit is hoping to make its fitness trackers more useful to those suffering from atrial fibrillation.

More than 2.7 million Americans are living with the condition. Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. Those with atrial fibrillation have a quivering or irregular heartbeat. Signs include dizziness, weakness and fatigue.

Anyone can have an irregular heartbeat and the causes are numerous, but it’s more common in people who are ages 60 and older. With the right treatment and some lifestyle changes, those suffering from irregular heartbeat can stay active and energetic.

Fitbit fitness trackers are well known for counting steps, distance, calories and monitoring sleep. Many of its fitness trackers also have the ability to keep tabs on your ticker. According to an article in the Time, the company is now hard at work researching ways in which its heart rate sensor can be used to identify periods in which abnormal heart beats may be occurring.

“When we start to look at our PurePulse [heart rate monitor] data that we get from all of these users, we began to see irregularities in heart rhythms,” Subramaniam Venkatraman, Fitbit’s director of research told Time.

“From our knowledge of physiology, [that] suggests an indicator of atrial fibrillation.”

Many people don’t experience any symptoms at all, and this is the segment of the population Fitbit is hopeful of helping. These are the people most at risk as they are unaware they have the condition. A symptom checker within Fitbit’s smartphone app could alert them.

Essential reading: Choosing the right Fitbit tracker

Fitbit’s technology is pretty good when it comes to monitoring your heart rate. It does a decent job for more intense activities such as a steady run in the park, but for high intensity workouts or interval training the accuracy is not as great. This is why many runners still prefer to put on a heart rate chest strap.

And this is the main issue. The technology is not there just yet. The data gathered by Fitbit’s Pure Pulse sensor is only clean enough to spot abnormalities when the wearer is stationary or asleep. So the research is still in its early stages.

However, this may all change soon. We are highly hopeful that the accuracy of Fitbit’s heart rate measurements will improve with its upcoming smartwatch. It is rumoured that it will come with upgraded heart rate technology.

Like most fitness trackers, for its current crop of wearables Fitbit uses green LED optical sensors. The new device appears to have two infra-red lights in the middle, as well as a blue light along the bottom. Because red light technology can penetrate deeper, heart rate and heart rate variability measurements should be more accurate.

Source: Time

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