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Can your smartwatch save you from a stroke? Scientists need your help.

Each year, more than 100,000 strokes are caused by an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillationIn atrial fibrillation, electrical conduction in the heart becomes disorganisedThe disease is treatable, but many people don’t feel symptoms, so the trick is detecting it before the patient has a stroke. 

Is it possible to detect abnormal heart rhythms by using off-the-shelf smartwatches? That’s the question a team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco hope to answer with the help of a new app.

 

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The mRhythm study, is comprised of a team of medical researchers from the UCSF Health eHeart study and software engineers from Cardiogram. Over the past few months, they’ve developed a preliminary algorithm to detect atrial fibrillation, using the heart rate sensors on Apple Watch and Android Wear.

Your heart’s normal rhythm varies from beat to beat, and the pattern of variability depends on what is happening in your life – whether you’re stressed, excited, or just drank a cup of coffee for example. Atrial fibrillation is highly variable, but in a way that’s random. What essentially happens is, different chambers of the heart beat at different rate.

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In order to make the algorithms robust and reliable, the researchers need to feed in more heart data. The more data our algorithm sees, the more accurate it gets.

And this is where you come in. By contributing your data you can help improve the algorithm. The algorithm is capable of learning from users both with and without heart conditions.

To collect the data, the researchers have created an app called Cardiogram. There is an iOS and an Android version, both free to download. The apps will provide you with a wealth of data, while at the same time feeding it back to the scientists. If you wish to share your data, you will also need to sign up online at mRhythmStudy.org.

With the app, you can: see how your heart reacts during an intense workout; see how your resting heart rate (a key indicator of your cardiac health), compares to a runner, biker, or couch potato; after an exciting moment, share a graph of your heart rate via email, Twitter, or Facebook; view your heart rate for the whole day; and track spikes to your heart rate related to stress, diet, or exercise.

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“This is the very first baby step to using the Apple Watch as a medical device that can affect people’s lives,” Ballinger told AppleInsider.

“We’ve been incredibly impressed with the work Apple put in and the little details it got right.

Once the algorithm is ‘trained’ to accurately detect atrial fibrillation, we can imagine most fitness trackers applying this technology to detect problems and warn you before strokes actually occur. The study officially kicked off last week and researchers expect to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal in the latter part of this year.

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