If your heart is beating like a jungle drum and you’re not Emiliana Torrini, you should probably download Apple Watch’s new ECG app. With the latest Watch OS 5.3 on the Apple Watch Series 4, you can now conduct electrocardiograms right from your wrist at your own convenience.
You might ask: why would you want, or for that matter, need to measure your heart rhythm in the middle of the day? Surely, this sounds like a siren song for hypochondriacs?
Not necessarily. With the 21st century breathing down our necks, and the intense hustle and bustle that accompanies Singapore’s beat, the level of stress faced in daily life could, if left untreated, impact on your mental state and trigger episodes of cardiac arrhythmia. Say, I don’t know—perhaps from a friend's grating laugh that even Powerbeats Pro can’t drown out or a certain acquaintance's nasal voice playing (or should we say, braying?) over in your head.
First up, what is an echocardiogram or ECG?
It is a reading that represents the electrical pulses that make your heart beat. The ECG app checks these pulses to get your heart rate and to see if your upper and lower chambers of your heart are in rhythm. If they're out of rhythm, that is atrial fibrillation.
How do you use the ECG app?
Available to consumers as a free update to watchOS 5.3 and approved by the Singapore Health Sciences Authority board, the ECG app (launched 22 July) pairs up with new touch-sensitive electrodes built into the back crystal and Digital Crown of the Apple Watch Series 4 to take readings whenever and wherever you please.
At set-up, users are taken through a quick on-screen run of who can use these features, what these features can and cannot do, how to interpret the results as well as with clear instructions on how to proceed if the data indicates that immediate medical attention is needed.
It’s user-friendly and accessible
What makes this app worthy of a mention is how quick and easy it is to use. To take readings at any time, users simply need to launch the app and hold a finger down on the Apple Watch Series 4 Digital Crown to complete the circuit and capture the electrical impulses sent across their heart.
After 30 seconds, the electrocardiogram reading classifies the wearer’s heart rhythm as either AF (heart is beating in an irregular pattern), sinus rhythm (heart is beating in a uniform pattern) or inconclusive (the ECG does not work if your heart rate is below 50 BPM or above 120 BPM).
With a 98.3 percent sensitivity in analysing cardiovascular data, the recordings are also stored in the Health app on your iPhone for easy reference, with a shareable PDF version for physicians.
“Having an easily accessible wearable like Apple Watch to detect heart rate, and now heart rhythm with the new ECG app, will go a long way in classifying and eventually managing atrial fibrillation,” said Julian Tan, MD, interventional cardiologist at The Cardiology Practice.
You can set up notifications for irregular heart patterns
Using the optical heart sensor in Apple Watch Series 1 or later, the app also monitors for irregular rhythm in the background, even when users are not actively checking their heart activity. When irregular rhythm is detected over five consecutive rhythm checks within a minimum of 65 minutes, users will be sent an alert through the irregular rhythm notification feature—pre-empting an episode before it occurs.
“We are confident in the ability of these features to help users have more informed conversations with their physicians,” said Sumbul Desai, MD, Apple’s vice president of Health. “With the ECG app and irregular rhythm notification feature, customers can now better understand aspects of their heart health in a more meaningful way.”
The update for watchOS 5.3 is available for download on the Apple Watch app.