Apple Watch could spot COVID-19 symptoms a week before it strikes

Two studies suggest Apple Watch could be a useful diagnostic tool.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Smartwatches such as the Apple Watch could be used to predict COVID-19 positive cases a week before a person feels sick or would test positive for coronavirus, two medical studies suggest.

This would apparently work even in instances of asymptomatic individuals, which represents a sizable proportion of COVID patients.

CBS News writes that:

“Researchers at Mount Sinai found that the Apple Watch can detect subtle changes in an individual’s heartbeat, which can signal that an individual has the coronavirus, up to seven days before they feel sick or infection is detected through testing. … Specifically, the study analyzed a metric called heart rate variability — the variation in time between each heartbeat — which is also a measure of how well a person’s immune system is working.”

Individuals with COVID-19 reportedly experienced lower heart rate variability (less variation in time between heart beats) than those with no COVID-19. Greater heart rate variability shows that a person’s nervous system is “active, adaptable and more resilient to stress.”

The study was based on almost 300 Mount Sinai health care workers who wore Apple Watches between the end of April and September 2020. Apple didn’t participate in the study.

A second study

Meanwhile, a second, unrelated, study carried out at Stanford University found that 81% of coronavirus patients saw a change in rest heart rate up to 9.5 days before symptoms arose. A highly elevated heart rate could therefore help predict the onset of symptoms.

As it is, not enough people wear smartwatches that this could be a serious way of slowing the spread of coronavirus. There are also other, non-COVID reasons why a heart rate might be elevated or for heart rate variability. Still, it’s pretty fascinating research that could certainly form the foundation of some useful tools going forward.

It’s also a reminder of just what a powerful potential diagnostic tool more and more of us are now wearing on our wrists.

Source: CBS News