Smartwatches recognize Covid-19 before symptoms appear

Two independent studies show that smartwatches and fitness trackers – such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit wristbands – can detect a Covid-19 infection at an early stage.

Studies at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and Stanford University in California show the potential medical benefits wearable technology can have in the early detection of disease.

The aim of the study at the Icahn School of Medicine was to find a means of recognizing a Covid 19 disease before the infected person knows about it himself. To do this, the researchers evaluated smartwatch data from participating people.

Measurement of the heart rate indicates infection

An integrated, optical heart rate sensor that measures the pulse is required. When worn regularly, the smartwatch can detect even small changes in the pulse, which can be a cause of an infection. According to the researchers, these deviations can be detected a week before the first symptoms of Covid-19 disease appear.

Many smartwatches and fitness trackers measure the interval between heartbeats. Depending on the load, the interval adapts to the corresponding physical requirements. In medicine, this process is called heart rate variability (HRV). Heart rate variability is a so-called medical marker that can indicate an illness if it is irregular. If the normal variance in the intervals between heartbeats is impaired, it may be an indication of inflammation. A disease with Covid-19 has a similar effect, as the researchers told the US news broadcaster ” CBS News “:

“We already know that heart rate variability [HRV] markers change when inflammation develops in the body, and Covid is extremely inflammatory. That allows us to predict if someone is infected before they know. “

Rob Hirten, Assistant Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The study was carried out in the hospitals of the hospital operator Mount Sinai Health Systems between April and September 2020. For this, the heart rate data of 300 health care workers who wore an Apple Watch were evaluated. Apple is in no way involved in participating in or funding the study.

Also interesting: The 5 best fitness trackers in comparison

Stanford study comes to a similar conclusion

In a second study by Stanford University, trackers from Fitbit, Garmin and other manufacturers were used in addition to the Apple Watch. The study came to the result that 81 percent of the participants who tested corona-positive noticed changes in their heart rate nine days before the onset of symptoms. Using the smartwatch data, the researchers were able to diagnose two thirds of Covid-19 cases seven to four days before the first symptoms. The study examined 32 patients who tested positive. The results were published in November 2020 in the journal ” Nature Biomedical Engineering “.

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