Fitbit can now check if you ain’t got rhythm

12 Apr 2022

Image: Google

Following FDA approval, a new AFib detection feature will soon be rolled out to certain Fitbit devices across the US.

Fitbit, the Google-owned wearable tech company, has received the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to roll out a new feature that can detect atrial fibrillation in users.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a type of abnormal heart rhythm with extremely fast and irregular beats in the upper chambers of the heart. The condition affects approximately 37.5m people around the world and can often go undetected – significantly increasing the risk of stroke.

Fitbit said in an announcement yesterday (11 April) that the FDA had approved its photoplethysmography (PPG) algorithm to detect AFib. This works by monitoring a person’s heartbeat when they are sleeping or sitting still over a long period of time.

“If there’s anything that might be suggestive of AFib, you’ll be notified through our Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature – allowing you to talk with your healthcare provider or seek further assessment to help prevent a significant medical event, such as stroke,” Fitbit wrote in a blogpost.

98pc accurate

Fitbit first started studying its algorithm in 2020, when it remotely tested the AFib detection feature on nearly half a million participants over a period of five months. AFib detection was found to be 98pc accurate after cross-checking with clinical ECG results.

Google applied for FDA approval for the tech last month. While any notification from the device is not an official diagnosis, alerts can prompt users to check with medical professionals and potentially prevent strokes.

The feature will “soon be available” in the US for users with a range of Fitbit devices, the company said.

The clearance puts Fitbit in competition with all Apple Watches since the Series 4, which can detect AFib using a heart sensor. But these tech giants aren’t the only ones turning their attention to AFib.

Previous Start-up of the Week Galenband has developed its own wrist-worn heart monitoring device to detect AFib. The NUI Galway spin-out was named ‘One to Watch’ at the Enterprise Ireland Big Ideas showcase in 2020.

Other Irish start-ups focusing on the AFib treatment space include Irish-German medtech OneProjects, BioInnovate spin-out AuriGen Medical and NUI Galway spin-out Atrian Medical.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic