Image source: Fitbit

Fitbit starts rolling out passive Afib detection to several devices

Fitbit has announced it is rolling out the new Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature in the United States. Several devices will be getting it from today including Versa 2/3/Lite, Sense, Charge 3,4,5, Luxe and Inspire 2.

The company had received the nod of approval from the FDA for this a few weeks ago. It allows the device on your wrist to be able to passively monitor your heart rhythms for signs of irregularities such as atrial fibrillation (Afib).

The tech works passively while a person is still or sleeping

The regulatory paperwork was actually done by Alphabet Inc, which is the parent company of Google. Fitbit sits under its umbrella ever since the recent acquisition. This filing was submitted in March so the FDA approval for Fitbit’s algorithm came through quite quickly.

The unique part about this tech is that it analyses wearers’ heart rhythms using the photoplethysmography (PPG) sensors that can be found on most of Fitbit’s wearables. So it is quite different and should not be confused with Fitbit Sense’s (and Charge 5’s) ability to get these types of readings from an ECG sensor. The company already has FDA approval for that.

The benefit of using PPG sensors is the fact that they work passively in the background by tracking the blood flow in a user’s wrist. The passive monitoring heart feature kicks in when a user is asleep or at rest.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

The company’s vehicle to assess how accurately its devices can detect atrial fibrillation (AFib) via a PPG sensor is the Fitbit Heart Study. This has been conducting tests on 450,000 individuals for a while now. To date, the passive monitoring has flagged up some 5,000 people for a follow up appointment.

Results of the study published last November show that Fitbit has an algorithm that is pretty good at spotting undiagnosed signs of Afib. And that such devices could be used for spotting first signs of the condition.

Although there were some false positives, the study demonstrates that Fitbit’s heart rate algorithm, when combined with a wearable ECG monitor patch, delivers a 98% positive predictive value. 

Fitbits, therefore, have the potential to be used for massive screening for Afib. Which, in turn, would reduce medical costs on a wide scale. The results were presented at the annual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association.

The feature is rolling out now

Fitbit publicised the news in a blog post. This feature brings it one step closer to being a must have health and fitness device.

“When your heart beats, tiny blood vessels throughout your body expand and contract based on changes in blood volume”, the company writes.

“Fitbit’s PPG optical heart-rate sensor can detect these volume changes right from your wrist. These measurements determine your heart rhythm, which the detection algorithm then analyzes for irregularities and potential signs of atrial fibrillation.”

Since the outset, the primary goal of the Heart Study was to look for approval from the FDA for Fitbit’s photoplethysmography AFib detection algorithm. Now that it has secured this, the feature has started rolling out today and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

Fitbit Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications

This is the full list of Fitbit devices that will be able to access the Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications. To remind, this is for users in the United States. Availability in other countries is yet to be announced.

  • Sense
  • Versa Lite
  • Versa 2
  • Versa 3
  • Charge 3
  • Charge 4
  • Charge 5
  • Luxe
  • Inspire 2

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