MAR 17, 2018 2:00 PM PDT

Detecting Atrial Fibrillation On the Go

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

A new smartphone application can detect stroke-causing atrial fibrillation (AF) using the same accelerometer technology that counts your steps. From the University of Turku, researchers provide a new way to make timely AF diagnoses, maximizing the time people have to lower their risk of stroke.

The app can detect atrial fibrillation when it is held against the person's chest. Credit: Hanna Oksanen / University of Turku

Development of the new app marks the first time that “ordinary consumer electronics” have been able to realistically beneficial for medicine. The benefit is particularly large for people with AF, a condition characterized by an irregular heartbeat affecting the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, as they pump blood into the lower chambers, the ventricles.

AF affects millions of Americans, and it increases the risk of blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart conditions. Approximately 20 percent of people with strokes also have AF. Treatment includes regulating the heartbeat and the heart rate, avoiding blood clots, and managing risk factors for stroke, which include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and obesity. Many people are not aware of their AF until they have a stroke.

Scientists have been developing the app’s AF-detecting algorithm for seven years. It’s based on “micromovements” in the chest detected via small accelerometers. An accelerometer is the electromechanical device included in virtually all smartphones that measures acceleration forces, like steps.

“Most smartphones have an accelerometer. As nearly everyone has a smart phone, we decided to develop a simple application that could be used in the detection,” explained project manager Tero Koivisto. “In the future, everyone who owns a smartphone can detect atrial fibrillation.”

Koivisto and the other researchers tested the new app with 300 patients with heart problems; half of these patients had AF. Many patients with AF also had other heart conditions like heart failure, coronary disease, and ventricular extrasystole. Researchers were successfully able to differentiate between the group with AF and the group with other heart problems with their smartphone app algorithm. They concluded that the app detects AF with a 96 percent accuracy.

“If everyone can measure with an ordinary smartphone whether they have atrial fibrillation, we have the possibility to direct patients straight to the doctor and further testing without any delay,” explained Chief Physician and Professor of Cardiology Juhani Airaksinen. “Therefore, the potential for economic savings is significant.”

Now, researchers are going through the steps to make the mobile application available to the world.

The present study was published in the journal Circulation.

Sources: LiveScience, American Heart Association, University of Turku

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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