Wearables Can Detect Hypertension & Sleep Apnea, Suggests New Study

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Thanks to its numerous built-in sensors and the ResearchKit platform, the Apple Watch is increasingly proving to be a good diagnostic tool for various health conditions.

Since the app is able to track heart rates and can detect when the heart rate spikes during the normal REM sleep cycle, it can also detect when that cycle is abnormal.

The Apple Watch can accurately detect health conditions like sleep apnea and hypertension, says a new study by the University of California San Francisco. And using the special DeepHeart neural network, it was able to detect hypertension with an 82 percent accuracy and sleep apnea with 90 percent accuracy.

"What if we could transform wearables people already own - Apple Watches, Android Wears, Garmins, and Fitbits - into low-priced, everyday screening tools using artificial intelligence?" wrote Cardiogram co-founder Brandon Ballinger in a Medium post.

The study was conducted by health startup Cardiogram and UCSF and followed more than 6,000 subjects, some of whom had diagnosed hypertension and sleep apnea. Seventy percent of the data went to train DeepHeart, teaching it on what to look for when diagnosing sleep apnea and hypertension.

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Nine to 21 percent of women and 24 to 31 percent of men have sleep apnea, according the American Sleep Association. This is a serious condition where the person affected stops breathing in their sleep and can lead to death.

'The idea here is that by screening continuously you would identify people with hypertension who might not know they have it, ' said Cardiogram's co-founder and study lead Johnson Hsieh. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is another serious condition that puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke - the top causes of death in the U.S. According to Center for Disease Control statistics, about 75 million American adults have hypertension.

He adds: 'Then you'd guide them through the appropriate final diagnosis, which would be through a blood pressure cuff and then treatment'.

Hsieh believes this study shows promise for other wearable technology to incorporate a heart-rate sensors including FitBits. Google Brain's published its results on diabetic eye disease in December 2016 and Stanford Health Care published their findings on skin cancer in January 2017.

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