As of a few weeks ago there are two Fitbits you can use to analyze your heart health. Here is everything you need to know about taking an ECG with a Fitbit Sense or Charge 5.
What is an ECG?
You have probably heard of the term ECG. It stands for electrocardiogram.
Sometimes people use the term EKG. There is no difference between ECG and EKG – it is the same thing. Both refer to the same procedure. The difference stems from spelling. The first is based on English spelling, the second variation on German spelling (elektrokardiogramm).
Why would you want to take a ECG and what exactly is it? Well, this is a simple test that records the electrical signal from your heart. It is used to test for certain heart conditions and abnormalities.
An out of whack EKG can mean a number of things. There are instances where an abnormality is no cause for worry as it does not affect your health. It is just a variation of a heart’s rhythm. But at other times an abnormal ECG can indicate a medical emergency.
Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is perhaps the heart abnormality that is best known. This is because it is the most common arrhythmia diagnosed in clinical practice. Estimates vary, but anywhere between 3 and 6 million Americans suffer from the condition. It is typically not life-threatening but knowing you have it can help you make healthy lifestyle choices.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets
In the past you had to go book an appointment at the doctors office or a heart specialist (cardiologist) in order to take an ECG. With the advent of wearable tech in recent years, it has become possible to do this from the comfort of your home. There are a plethora of devices you can buy and they range from dedicated ECG monitors, to those integrated in smartwatches and blood pressure monitors.
As far as smartwatches, it is the Apple Watch Series 4 which has popularized ECG and made it available to the masses. All subsequent Apple watches come with the functionality baked in. Withings also has a number of such devices as do a number of other wearable brands. Fitbit is amongst these. Two of its devices can be used to take ECG readings – Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Charge 5.
How to take an ECG with Fitbit Sense or Charge 5
The first Fitbit with ECG functionality is Sense. This is a fully featured health and fitness smartwatch that is Fitbit’s most high-spec device.
A couple of weeks ago the company announced Charge 5 – an updated version of Fitbit’s flagship fitness band range. Unlike in the previous years, the new device came with lots of upgrades. Amongst these are a color display, a more streamlined design, the ability to take ECG and more. You can read our detailed comparison between Fitbit Charge 5 and 4 on this link.
So how exactly do you take an ECG on a Fitbit Sense or Charge 5? The procedure is not all-too-different between the two.
- The first step is to open the Fitbit ECG app.
- Both of these devices come with sensors in the frame and biosensor core. A closed circuit needs to be established with electrodes on the back in order to record and analyze your heartbeat. This is achieved by resting your fingers on the metal corners for Sense and on the side panels for Charge 5. You’ll be propped by the screen to do this when you start the app.
- You should be sitting down when taking a reading. Talking might also get you an “inconclusive result”.
- A countdown will begin – you’ll get the message to keep your hands still. If you move it will restart the count. A squiggly line on the screen will show your heart rhythm trace in the background.
- An ECG recording takes 30 seconds by default. There is no way to increase or decrease this.
- You’ll get the message “Data Collected” followed by “Analyzing” once the 30 seconds are up.
- This will be followed by your results.
- If you get an “inconclusive reading” message – try again. Make sure you have correct finger placement, are relaxed, quiet and sitting down and that the watch is on your left wrist.
Fitbit ECG App not showing – how to add the app
If the ECG app cannot be found you’ll need to add it to your device. This is done from the Fitbit smartphone app.
- Go to the Today tab
- Tap the icon in the top left corner – this brings you to your Account Settings
- Choose your device by clicking on its picture
- This should take you through to a new screen. Choose Apps.
- This will show you the apps that are currently installed. The ECG app should be amongst these. If not – find and install it.
- Let it do the installation – when the red line finishes going from left to right it is finished installing.
- If the ECG app does not show in your “My Apps” list, choose “All apps” and do a search for “ECG”. If you still can’t see it – it might not be available in your country. You can see a list of supported countries at fitbit.com/ecg.
Analyzing the results
The Fitbit ECG app lets you check in on your heart rhythm right from your wrist. This assessment can’t diagnose AFib on its own, but the results may indicate that there is a problem. So they could be life saving.
There are three different results you can get by taking an ECG measurement:
- Normal sinus rhythm – everything looks good. This is what you ideally want.
- Atrial fibrillation – a positive finding that shows you have potential Afib. If you find you are repeatedly getting this result – talk to your doctor.
- Inconclusive – the device didn’t get a clear enough signal to take a conclusive reading. You will also get this message if your heart rate is over 120 bpm or under 50 bpm. The latter might be a problem for those that are very fit as their resting heart rate might fall below this threshold.
You can even download a report to share with your doctor. This is done by opening your Heart Rhythm Assesment in the Fitbit app and choosing the option to export as a PDF file. Then simply attach this to an email and fire away.
It is important to note, an ECG taken with a Fitbit (or any other wearable device) is not a full substitute for a professionally taken reading. This is despite the fact that the company has secured FDA approval in the US and CE in Europe, which makes it a medical grade device. Fitbit has also researched and tested in a clinical study that their sensors provide accurate results.
But Charge 5 and Sense have a one-lead ECG – which is less then you get on professional devices. The more leads, the more accurate the device is. So don’t change your medications based on these readings. Instead, use these ECG measurements as a way to spot a potential Afib.
Having said that, if you have any concerns about your heart health you should talk to your doctor. Even if the thing on your wrist tells you that everything is fine. The Fitbit ECG app does not detect heart attacks, blood clots, strokes and other heart conditions. So there is a wide range of issues that it might not pick up. What it does is – it offers an easy and convenient way to do a quick diagnostic on your heart periodically.
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