Tech companies are targeting heart disease — here’s how


  1. From apps that diagnose irregular heart rhythms to phone cases that claim to measure blood pressure, there has been a wave of technology promising to use our everyday devices — smartphones and wearables — to fight heart disease.
  2. Earlier this week, the makers of the AliveCor KardiaBand, a sensor compatible with the Apple Watch, presented results saying that it can use a heart reading to detect dangerous levels of potassium in blood.
  3. And last year, engineers at Caltech showed that a smartphone app can accurately measure how much blood the heart pumps with each beat, called “left ventricular ejection fraction” (LVEF), as arteries expand and contract.
  4. (The neck houses the carotid artery, which feeds directly into the heart, so the information from there is the most accurate.) The smartphone camera measures the expansion and contraction of the artery walls, and the algorithm inside the app analyzes the information to calculate the blood flow from the heart.
  5. “If your watch could detect it based on the rhythms that it could be measuring, then it could better allow you to get treatment early and prevent that stroke,” says Eric Peterson, a professor of medicine at Duke University and a member of the American Heart Association.
  6. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure.
  7. Peterson says there’s a running joke among doctors: when patients take their blood pressure and see it’s high, they get stressed.
  8. One challenge is that all these cuffless devices don’t measure blood pressure per se, which is taken by squeezing an artery near your elbow as it’s been done for decades.
  9. The biggest challenge, however, is accuracy, says Bruce Alpert, a pediatric cardiologist who’s performed many validation studies for manufacturers of automated blood pressure devices.
  10. A new phone case claims to measure blood pressure from the fingertip, but an early study didn’t really prove whether the case is accurate enough for at-home use.
  11. This 3D-printed smartphone case claims to measure blood pressure when a user presses a finger on a sensor.


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