Harvard Heart Letter

Monitoring your heart rhythm with a smartphone: A good call?

An app that detects an irregular heart rhythm could be reassuring for people worried about afib.

monitoring heart rhythm with smartphone
Image: Prykhodov /Thinkstock

Just over two years ago, the FDA approved the AliveCor Heart Monitor, which consists of a smartphone app plus a phone case with special sensors on the back. Touching the sensors with your fingers allows you to see a simple version of your heart's electrical activity on the phone screen. In the latest version, called Kardia, the sensors just need to be near (not necessarily on) your phone. The readout reveals if your heart rhythm looks normal or if you appear to have atrial fibrillation (afib)—a rapid, irregular heart rhythm that raises the risk of stroke.

Currently, several new smartphone apps to alert you about possible afib using just the phone itself—no special case required—are under development. Recent research suggests they're about as accurate as the Kardia system, although they haven't yet been cleared by the FDA and aren't on the market. If and when they are, could these apps help improve afib screening?

Possibly, but only if they are carefully tested and proven to show high-quality representations of the heart's rhythm, says Dr. Kevin King, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "And I would still do additional testing with a Holter monitor or event monitor to confirm the diagnosis," he says. These wearable monitors record your heart's electrical activity (a test known as an electrocardiogram or ECG) for days or up to a month.

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