In only a few years, smartwatches have evolved from quirky devices and status symbols to robust health and fitness trackers. Since around early 2021, the market has been saturated with devices that use various sensors to monitor everyday life, exercise, sleep, and general health. They can also alert wearers of possible heart attacks and summon assistance if they fall and cannot get up.
ECG capability is one of the most important health capabilities of today’s health watches. Essentially, ECG is a medical process for monitoring heart activity and testing for any anomalies. It stands for electrocardiogram and is abbreviated as ECG. When taken in a hospital, it provides a more accurate reading. But the benefit of inserting a basic version of this hardware into a smartwatch is that you can obtain an ECG reading anytime you want. Plus, you can then send the data to your doctor rather than having to wait until they’re in the hospital.
How does an ECG work?
By conducting an electrical circuit through the wearer’s body, smartwatches obtain an ECG. The heart rate sensor on the back of the device is pressed against the wrist. And, when the wearer places a finger on either the display or crown, it begins to take the reading. The ECG takes about 30 seconds to complete. The data is sent to a mobile app where it can be accessed, saved, and submitted to a doctor.
The Apple Watch Series 4 was the first smartwatch to have an ECG app released in 2018. Apple’s ECG app wasn’t accessible in every country at the same time because a clinical feature like this needs approval from government health departments. Instead, it arrived in the United States after the FDA approved the software. Still, it didn’t function in the United Kingdom or Europe until months later, when the European Union’s version of the FDA authorised its use.
Any manufacturer of ECG-enabled products must follow these measures. As a consequence, the ECG software is often delivered in stages. The FDA has yet to approve Withings’ ECG app in the United States (though it is available across Europe), and Samsung has also faced delays.
Smartwatches with ECG capabilities are often used to monitor for symptoms of atrial fibrillation. This disorder may cause an abnormal or unusually quick heartbeat. It’s common, but it can be fatal. And it often goes undiagnosed because ECG testing isn’t available outside of a medical setting. Smartwatches, including ECG hardware, emphasise that they cannot monitor other heart problems, such as a possible cardiac arrest. But the data and alerts they provide will provide owners with the knowledge they have to seek help.
Some of the most common smartwatches and wearable devices with an ECG app are mentioned below. Although not all of them are currently available globally (yet) and the likes of Garmin still don’t offer this feature.
Fitbit, now owned by Google, is renowned for fitness trackers and offers a smartwatch called the Sense. This is a full-featured smartwatch with the same health and fitness features you’d expect from an Apple Watch. Plus alerts, water resistance, call handling, music streaming, contactless payments, and more.
It also includes an HRM and the ability to perform an ECG. To complete the electrocardiogram reading, simply wear the Sense and put a finger on the aluminium case, as with others. The Fitbit Sense, like the Apple Watch, monitors unusually high and low heart rates. The Fitbit Sense’s ECG app is also not available everywhere. However, it does operate in the US, UK. And Europe as of February 2021, with Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore on the way. Anybody under 22 does not use the ECG app, according to Fitbit. Reportedly, Fitbit will incorporate blood pressure monitoring with the Sense.
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Series 4, 5, and 6 Apple Watches
The ECG app is available on the Apple Watch Series 4, 5, and 6. The first iteration was released in the autumn of 2018, and the most recent, the Series 6, in 2020. The ECG app is available in most countries. It takes about 30 seconds to do, then sends the data collected to the user’s iPhone’s Health app. It can then be sent off to a doctor if necessary.
An ECG is obtained by connecting the wearer’s body to an electrical circuit. Now, with the Apple Watch, you place the heart rate monitor on your wrist as expected, then tap the Digital Crown with your opposite hand’s index finger to conclude the circuit. The watch will then notify you if your heartbeat is regular or whether you have Afib.
While the Apple Watch SE also includes a heart rate monitor, it does not have the ability to take an ECG.
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Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
ECG functionality is now available on several Samsung smartwatches including the 3, the new Galaxy Watch 4 and the Active 2. These have been licensed in the United States, Europe, and Samsung’s home country of South Korea. When the wearer puts a finger from the opposite hand on the case, these watches can conduct an ECG using the heart rate sensor. You must rest your forearm on a flat surface and stay as calm as possible without shifting during the 30-second ECG, as with other ECG wearables.
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ScanWatch by Withings
The Move ECG and the ScanWatch are smartwatches with ECG functionality from Withings, a French technology company. The former is less expensive and a little dated now, whereas the latter is the latest and greatest. Both monitor exercise, heart rate, and sleep, but the ScanWatch has a basic display for displaying alerts and other data.
Unfortunately, despite being clinically validated and commercially available in Europe, Withings is still waiting for FDA approval. It can’t sell its ECG devices in the US before that happens. The organisation had planned to clear this roadblock in 2020 as it was causing delays, but as of early 2021, it has still yet to do so.
Some wearables go even further, emphasising heart health as a selling point. One such gadget is the Omron HeartGuide. It’s being marketed as the world’s first scientifically tested wearable blood pressure monitor, and it’s been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration of the United States).
It will check your blood pressure, track steps, distance, calories, and sleep, as well as show some (limited) smartphone alerts. When you ask the HeartGuide to calculate your blood pressure, it will also calculate your heart rate. Blood pressure and heart rate provide two different measures of heart health, as you probably already know if you monitor your blood pressure regularly. Heart rate is the number of beats per minute, whereas blood pressure is the intensity of your blood flowing through the vessels. As a result, the Omron is unable to determine the heart rate during a workout. If you check your blood pressure often, don’t need advanced smart features, and aren’t especially fashion-conscious, this may seem like a reasonable (if pricey) investment.
Take your blood pressure too
It might also be appealing if you want to see how your blood pressure is at home. You’ll need fast fingers to put it on and take it off, which you’ll have to do any time you want to shower. If you’re patient, it may withstand being sprayed with water when washing your face, but it won’t survive being immersed in water. Even on a strong male wrist, it feels bulky and cumbersome.
It’s only available in a medium, and we can’t imagine how a large would feel. If you’ve had a mastectomy, you shouldn’t use the Heart Guide. Different alarms can be seen on traditional blood pressure monitors. Often, talk to your doctor about how much you can monitor your blood pressure during the day. In order to avoid bruising, Omron recommends not doing it more often than required. If you’re just going to do it once or twice a day, there’s no need to wear anything so heavy all the time.
How do you know if you’re monitoring your HR correctly?
There are some things you could do to ensure that your watch reliably tracks your heart rate.
- Make sure your smartwatch or fitness tracker is snug but not too tight around your wrist, with the sensors flush against your skin just above the wrist bone.
- Maintain the cleanliness of your smartwatch or fitness tracker. Sweat can also obstruct readings.
- Warm-up before obtaining a reading if you have low circulation or are simply cold.
- Your heart rate can vary from your usual readings if you smoke or drink alcohol before taking a measurement. Try taking another one later as a comparison.
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Last Updated on September 9, 2021