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Can the Apple Watch Save Your Life?

By Danny Vena – Updated Oct 6, 2017 at 3:19PM

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The new Apple Watch hosts a number of impressive innovations, but one in particular could be a lifesaver.

At Apple Inc.'s (AAPL 1.98%) recent product launch, the company unveiled a number of impressive reboots to its most popular products. It was no surprise that the flagship iPhone took center stage, boasting new facial recognition and advanced artificial intelligence built into the device as well as state-of-the-art augmented reality. The Apple Watch Series 3 revealed a number of upgrades, the most impressive of which was its ability to untether from the iPhone and make and receive calls and texts when separated from its parent device.

One of the more useful features for health-conscious users, though, is the updated heart rate monitor. The device was designed to give users greater insight into heart measurements, including during workouts, recovery, and rest. The Watch will also notify users if there is a spike in their heart rate when not exercising, which could signal a potential problem. Apple thinks the device could even alert users to potentially serious heart problems.

Two models of Apple Watch interlinked by their bands.

The Series 3 Apple Watch could detect a potentially life-threatening heart condition. Image source: Apple.

At the heart of the matter

The condition of atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, causes an irregular and often chaotic and rapid heart rate. Patients with the disorder may exhibit no symptoms and might not even know they have the condition. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 2.7 million and 6.1 million people in the United States have AFib, which can increase their risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. The aging of the U.S. population will likely cause this number to increase. 

More than 750,000 people are admitted to the hospital each year due to AFib, and as many as 130,000 die each year from the condition. That number has been on the rise for more than two decades.

If you have an Apple Watch, however, it could provide early warning.

Watching your heart rate

CNBC is reporting that Apple is partnering with Stanford Hospital to launch a new study into whether the Apple Watch can accurately detect irregular heartbeats, which can be a warning sign of an impending stroke.

In partnership with privately held telehealth company American Well, the study will determine if the Watch can accurately detect irregular heartbeats, providing a useful screening tool for patients at higher risk due to the condition. Apple has also been working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the study. 

Cardiogram app on Apple Watch.

The Cardiogram app for Apple Watch detected AFib with 97% accuracy. Image source: Cardiogram.

This isn't the first time the Apple Watch has been used in heart-related studies. Earlier this year, start-up company Cardiogram partnered with the University of California, San Francisco to conduct its Health eHeart Study. Using over 6,000 volunteers, the study concluded that the Apple Watch coupled with the Cardiogram app could detect atrial fibrillation with 97% accuracy. 

More than moderately successful

While the Apple Watch hasn't achieved the singular success of the iPhone, it has been extraordinarily successful in its own right. A report by research firm Gartner reveals that the Apple Watch accounts for one-third of the overall sales in the smartwatch market. Apple doesn't break out sales of the device, which resides in the "Other products" category of its income statement, along with the iPod, Beats headphones, Airpods, and Apple TV. The entire segment accounted for only 6% of Apple's revenue in its most recent quarter

Still, in its conference call, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that the Watch was "the number one selling smartwatch in the world by a very wide margin," and sales of the Watch were up 50% year over year. The additional features and buzz around the Series 3 version of the Watch will likely contribute to further success.

Apple believes that the Watch could be a component of consumer's personal health, providing the ability to monitor certain health indicators such as heart rate, as another way to increase the usefulness of the product and its stickiness within the Apple ecosystem. It might just save your life, too.

Danny Vena owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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