Smartwatches and fitness trackers could trigger heart attacks in vulnerable patients tech news

A new study warns that smart watches and wearable fitness devices could trigger heart attacks in vulnerable patients that could be fatal.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Utah and published in the journal Heart Rhythm, found that, Samsung The Galaxy Watch4, Fitbit smart scale, and Moodmetric smart ring are just a few of the devices that can pose potential health risks.

This is due to the potential interference of device sensing technology in cardiac implantable electronic device (CIED) patients.

CIEDs include pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices.

Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah media release The study “raised a red flag”.

The researchers found that the problems were caused by certain wearable smartwatches, home smart scales and smart rings that use bioimpedance — a sensing technology.

According to the website of the European Commission’s scientific committee, bioimpedance is the response of an organism to an externally applied electrical current.

The technology sends tiny, imperceptible electrical currents measured in microamps into the body.

The responses of these devices are measured by sensors to determine a person’s skeletal muscle or fat mass and stress levels.

After testing the functionality of the CRT devices, the researchers also found that the slight electrical currents emitted by these wearable devices can interfere with, and sometimes even cause, heart implants.

As a result, the device cannot function properly.

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With pacemakers, it has been determined that tiny electrical currents of bioimpedance can trick the heart into thinking it is beating fast enough to prevent the pacemaker from functioning.

“We have patients who are dependent on pacemakers to survive,” Professor of Medicine Benjamin Steinberg said in a media release.

“If the pacemaker becomes confused by the disturbance, it may stop working during the period of confusion. If the disturbance persists for a long time, the patient may pass out or worse,” added Mr. Steinberg.

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, which act as pacemakers and restore normal heart rhythm by shocking the heart, can also be affected by wearable devices.

Bioimpedance can send incorrect signals to the patient and send unwanted shocks – and therefore pain to the patient.

Warnings have been issued about implantable cardiac devices and their interference with various devices, the study added.

Professor Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, left, and Associate Professor of Medicine Benjamin Steinberg.Photo: Faculty of Engineering
Professor Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, left, and Associate Professor of Medicine Benjamin Steinberg.Photo: Faculty of Engineering

However, Mr Sanchez-Terrones said this is the first time a problem has been identified with the gadget’s bioimpedance sensing technology.

“The scientific community knows nothing about it,” he said.

“Nobody thought about whether this was a real problem.”

The researchers say the findings do not convey immediate or clear risks to patients using such wearables, but they consider them a first step for further research.

“We need to test it in a wider cohort of devices, and possibly in patients who use these devices,” Mr. Steinberg said.

Mr. Sanchez Terrones added: “Ultimately, more research is needed to assess the clinical translation of our findings and ensure the health of our patients.”

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