- 42-year-old had a seizure and came to A&E with a soaring, irregular pulse
- Doctors needed to know when his irregular heartbeat started to treat him
- Took readings from his FitBit and found it occurred 3 hours previously
- Were able to send him for electric shock therapy to return it to normal
They are normally used to track running distances and count calories.
But one man’s fitness tracker may have saved his life – by allowing doctors to determine the best way to treat his heart problem.
The 42-year-old man arrived at the Accident and Emergency room of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, New Jersey, after having a seizure.
His heart rate was soaring up to 190 beats per minute (bpm) and was irregular, said doctors describing his case in the Annals of Emergency Medicine journal.
Life-saving: An unnamed 42-year-old man fitness tracker may have saved his life, by allowing doctors to determine the best way to treat his heart problem
They gave him drugs and managed to slow his pulse down to normal, but the irregular heartbeat – known medically as atrial fibrillation – remained.
To provide the correct treatment, doctors needed to know when the irregular heartbeat had started.
This is not something could simply ask the man as many patients aren’t aware of the problem and so cannot give an accurate estimation.
If the man started suffering an irregular heartbeat a few days before arriving at A&E, a procedure called electrical cardioversion could be used, and he could be sent home immediately.
Electrical cardioversion is where electrical shocks are applied to the chest wall while the patient is under general anaesthetic – in order to restore normal heart rate.
However, if his heartrate had been irregular for longer than a few days, cardioversion will not work – and could even trigger a stroke.
In this case, one of the doctors noticed the man was wearing a fitness tracker, a FitBit, which can measure heart rate.
Heart-raising: Doctors used information from the man’s FitBit to determine his heart rate had shot up in the three hours previous to arriving at A&E – which meant he could be sent for a treatment called cardioversion
They accessed his smartphone to get the data from the tracker.
Using this information, they were able to see that his heart rate, nowmally between 70 to 80bpm, ahd jumped to 140 to 160 bpm around three hours before he arrived in hospital.
‘Using the patient’s activity tracker – in this case, a Fitbit – we were able to pinpoint exactly when the patient’s normal heart rate of 70 jumped up to 190,’ said Dr Alfred Sacchetti, the case report’s author.
The doctors could then decide to send the man for cardioversion – which returned his heart rate to normal.
When they looked at data on his FitBit again after he was treated, the device accurately showed that his pulse was no longer irregular.
Fitness trackers can provide doctors with useful information to make decisions in emergency settings, medics said.
Dr Sacchetti said: ‘Not all activity trackers measure heart rates, but this is the function of most value to medical providers.
‘Dizziness with a heart rate of 180 would be approached very differently from the same complaint with a heart rate of 30.
He added: ‘At present, activity trackers are not considered approved medical devices and use of their information to make medical decisions is at the clinician’s own discretion.
‘However, the increased use of these devices has the potential to provide emergency physicians with objective information prior to the patient’s arrival at the emergency department.’