Fitbit Atrial Fibrillation Detection: Firm Receives FDA Approval for New Technique to Measure Irregular Heartbeats


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Fitbit users will soon have new health information at their fingertips (or wrist): the the company announced this week that they have authorization received from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the technology that powers their new Irregular Heartbeat Notifications feature.

Fitbit atrial fibrillation software is an algorithm based on photoplethysmography, which uses a light source and a photodetector on the surface of your skin to measure changes in your blood flow and volume. Each time your heart beats, Fitbit says, your blood vessels expand and contract based on these changes in blood volume. Fitbit’s wrist sensor can measure these changes, which determines your heart rate. Then, the new algorithm analyzes this data to detect any variation that could signal atrial fibrillation or a rapid irregular heartbeat.

According to Mayo Clinic, atrial fibrillation (AFib) often occurs without symptoms, although in some people it can cause palpitations or shortness of breath. The danger with AFib is that it can cause blood clots, which can increase your risk of stroke. People with conditions such as high blood pressure, thyroid disease, or chronic conditions such as diabetes may be at increased risk of developing it.

Fitbit’s devices have been measuring resting heart rate and training heart rate for years, but their tracking footprint has recently grown to include irregularities. In 2020, Fitbit announced that it has received FDA clearance for its electrocardiogram (ECG) application, which was created on its Fitbit Sense device (which also included additional health tracking features such as skin temperature and oxygen saturation monitoring). This ECG app enabled on-the-spot readings to detect atrial fibrillation.

Now Fitbit’s new algorithm seeks to take this a step further by passively checking for irregularities in your heartbeat while you’re resting or asleep. If these background readings detect anything potentially abnormal, you’ll be notified via Fitbit’s irregular heartbeat notifications feature. Then, Fitibit says, you can pass that information on to your healthcare provider.

According to the company, data for the new software comes from its Fitbit Heart Study, a large-scale study launched in 2020 that included more than 450,000 participants. In November 2021, the company presented its research to the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2021 and announced that their new algorithm accurately detects irregular heart rhythms and undiagnosed atrial fibrillation 98% of the time.

According to EdgeFitbit’s new heart irregularity background detection brings its heart monitoring capabilities closer to those of the Apple Watch, which launched its ECG app and irregular heartbeat notifications in 2018. Fitbit didn’t give a specific launch date for their new AFib detection, or which of their fitness tracker models will feature it, although they said it would be available » coming soon « for US consumers » on a range of heart rate-enabled devices.

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