An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I heard this as a kid, and now as a parent, I always look for healthy advice and habits to pass on to my kids. This week, the apple became even more important in the prevention of disease. Apple announced that its Series 4 Watch includes an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG).
The ECG was invented in the late 1800s. It’s the machine that displays the squiggly lines, and always flatlines in TV dramas. It is used to detect abnormal heart rhythms and diagnose electrical conditions and heart attacks. It is also a good indicator for certain structural conditions. It is a very useful piece of equipment, but not all ECGs are created equal.
Most ECGs found in a doctor’s office or hospital have 12 leads. They are typically the size of a desktop computer and include ten wires and electrodes (stickers) that connect to the patient’s chest, arms and legs. The machine evaluates the rhythm, conduction and contour of the heart as it monitors the heart’s activity across the body.
The Apple Watch is a one lead ECG so it monitors the heart rhythm from one spot on the body. Its portability makes it great for capturing isolated events and offering insight into potential issues, like aFib in adults. This technology shows lots of promise, but it does not collect enough detail to diagnose heart conditions . . . yet.
Why does this matter? Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death of adults in the United States. It is the #1 cause of death of student athletes and takes the lives of thousands of children every year. Thirteen years ago, my son became one of those statistics so we created a heart screening program for students. Let me offer this real life scenario to illustrate my point.
Drew is thirteen. He complains that his heart races. It is hard to know what this really means because Drew is the only one who feels his symptoms. Does Drew consume too much caffeine? Is he an anxious kid? Does he have a heart condition?
Drew comes to our screening. After getting an ECG (12 lead), he is diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome – an electrical condition. It is possible that the new Apple Watch would have recorded his racing heart. This would’ve provided his parents and doctor with clues about his complaints. It could have led to further testing, the 12 lead ECG, to diagnose his condition. In other words, the watch could have taken the ambiguity out of Drew’s description.
After our screening, Drew underwent a medical procedure called an ablation. The surgery took place on my son’s birthday. Coincidence? Now, he is completely fine and doing well.
We should celebrate this new advancement for what it is. It brings affordable medical technology into our homes. It empowers consumers with valuable information. It raises awareness about heart health. It will give our children insight into how hard their heart works every day. It will help them understand how their heart behaves in certain situations. There’s no doubt that this will lead to a better quality of life.
In the meantime, get your child’s heart screened. Check out one of these organizations. It could save their life.