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Can wearable tech really save your life?

Some people claim they can’t live without their tech. It keeps them connected, manages their life and provides entertainment. While the statement isn’t typically meant to be taken literally, for some, it’s not hyperbole.

Kim Durkee bought an Apple Watch for its fall-detection feature. But that’s not why it ended up saving her life. She credits the watch for notifying her of an irregular heartbeat she didn’t know she had. After initially ignoring the watch’s alerts, she went to the ER and was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition.

In this article: Apple Watch Series 7, Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatch

How did a watch save Kim Durkee’s life?

Durkee is an active 67-year-old who enjoys hiking. She purchased an Apple Watch to monitor her workouts and to summon help if she happened to fall while out on a trail. One night in late May, her Minnie Mouse-themed watch woke her up, alerting her that it had detected atrial fibrillation.

A-fib is a condition where the electrical signals that make your heartbeat become disorganized. As a result, the upper chambers squeeze very fast and fall out of sync, which creates a quiver, or fibrillation, in the atria. Hence the name atrial fibrillation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, episodes of A-fib may come and go or be persistent. For many people, these episodes pass unnoticed. While the condition itself isn’t usually life-threatening, the irregular rhythm can create an inefficiency that causes blood to pool and clot in the heart, which can lead to a stroke or other heart-related complications if it is not treated.

Durkee ignored the alert from her Apple Watch the first two nights. However, by the third night, the numbers were so high that she decided she needed a trip to the ER. If the doctors couldn’t find anything, she decided that she would toss the watch and move on with her life.

After several days of testing, the cause for her A-fib was determined to be a myxoma. A myxoma is a rare tumor that starts in the heart and can cause an obstruction that leads to various conditions, ranging from fainting to embolisms. However, in many individuals, these tumors are asymptomatic. 

The only treatment for myxoma is surgical extraction. It took five hours of open heart surgery to remove the tumor completely. Without the early warning alert from her Apple Watch, Durkee is not so certain she would be alive today.

The progression of wearable tech

Early on, wearable tech was designed for convenience. For instance, in the mid-’70s, you could get a calculator watch. Many years later, in 2004, the Microsoft SPOT was released. This device could receive stock updates, weather, news, email and IMs, but the user could not respond.

In 2009,  Fitbit introduced the world to a whole new way of thinking about wearable tech. Instead of just trying to be a smaller, more portable version of something else, this watch could do things that devices like your phone couldn’t because you wore it against your skin.

Now, the primary purpose of many smartwatches is to function as a health monitor. They keep track of various health-related data so they can alert you whenever something falls outside the normal performance parameters, whether it is sleep patterns, your heartbeat or blood oxygen levels.

What does an Apple Watch monitor?

While an Apple Watch is not meant to diagnose, it does provide data that your doctor can evaluate to help provide better health care. Here are some of the many things an Apple Watch can do.

  • Help you set and achieve your fitness goals
  • Track your workouts
  • Filter out distractions to focus on fitness
  • Keep activity stats
  • Remind you to meditate
  • Time your hand-washing sessions
  • Track your menstrual cycle
  • Track your sleep quality
  • Monitor your respiratory rate while sleeping
  • Monitor your heart rate
  • Watch for irregular heart rhythms
  • Check your blood oxygen levels
  • Perform an ECG
  • Monitor for falls
  • Send an emergency SOS

When should I see a doctor?

The primary benefit of wearable technology like an Apple Watch is establishing a baseline. If you are wearing your watch daily, you know what normal data looks like for you. It is the change in that data that is the warning sign. This is because, as effective as the device is, it is still very limited in what it can do. But what it can do, it does well, so any changes, such as an irregular heart rhythm, should prompt you to seek medical attention. A smartwatch doesn’t replace a doctor. It alerts you to see one. If you are worried or your concern is affecting your quality of life, make an appointment to talk to your primary care physician.

Best smartwatches

Best Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar Smartwatch

Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar Smartwatch

This is a high-end, solar-powered GPS watch designed for athletes. It has training modules, health and wellness monitoring and over 30 built-in sports apps.

Sold by Backcountry and Kohl’s

Best Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7

Series 7 is the latest, most advanced Apple Watch. This customizable model has a rugged build and lets you monitor your blood oxygen, watch for irregular heart rhythms and lets you take an ECG anywhere you’d like.

Sold by Amazon and Staples

Best Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

The standout feature of this smartwatch is it performs a body composition analysis to measure body fat, skeletal muscle, body water, BMI and more. It provides ECG monitoring and has advanced workout tracking for six popular activities.

Sold by Amazon

Best Michael Kors Women's Gen 5E Smartwatch

Michael Kors Women’s Gen 5E Smartwatch

For individuals who want a more stylish option, this designer watch is it. It has an elegant round, gold-tone case with a white strap and a full-color display. The watch features the popular Wear OS from Google.

Sold by Macy’s

Best Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatch

Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatch

This is the brand that started it all. It monitors your heart rate, tracks your sleep quality and tells you calories burned as well as your active minutes for the day. You can also use it to stay in touch for quick replies when your phone is nearby.

Sold by Amazon and Kohl’s

Best Amazfit Band 5 Activity Fitness Tracker

Amazfit Band 5 Activity Fitness Tracker

If budget is a concern, Amazfit is a solid option. It has a 15-day battery life, measures blood oxygen levels, monitors heart rate and tracks your sleep habits. This model has 11 built-in sports modes to help elevate your workouts.

Sold by Amazon

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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