Your smartwatch may detect COVID-19 symptoms days before you do: Study

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Smartwatches are now commonly becoming health monitoring devices with many having the features to detect heartbeat, temperature or blood oxygen level. A new study has shown that the Apple Watch along with other wearable devices can detect COVID-19 even before the user gets a clue that they are infected.

COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 is a viral infection known for the range of symptoms it causes. Even though some people can develop severe symptoms that can lead to hospitalization or even death, others remain asymptomatic or develop very mild symptoms such as a fever or cough. But these asymptomatic people can also spread the virus, just as much as those with symptoms.

Researchers have been working to create an accurate list of COVID-19 symptoms as people are experiencing some other strange symptoms due to the virus, which still need to be defined. Therefore, testing, diagnosis and taking even the slightest symptoms seriously becomes important for safety.

A recent study by Mount Sinai Health System in New York has shown promising results while using Apple Watch in the early detection of COVID-19 in patients. The research has found smartwatches have the ability to continuously or frequently check the heart rate and these changes can be an indication of COVID-19 infection, even before other prominent symptoms like fever and cough appear.

Rob Hirten 
Rob Hirten 
Asst Prof of Medicine
Icahn School of Medicine

“Our goal was to use tools to identify infections at the time of infection or before people knew they were sick. We already knew that heart rate variability markers change as inflammation develops in the body, and COVID-19 is an incredibly inflammatory event. It allows us to predict that people are infected before they know it.”

As per researchers, such changes can be detected around a week before the physical symptoms start to appear. Features like one metric, heart variability, can be used as a measure of how well someone’s immune system is working.

The study showed that changes in heart rate and the variation in time between heartbeats were different from users with COVID-19 compared to users who were not exposed to the disease. An elevated heart rate means that the person’s nervous system is active and more resilient to stress. This is important as more than half of coronavirus cases have been spread by asymptomatic carriers.

Mobile applications that accompany wearable devices can be used to collect relevant self-reported symptoms and demographic data. This makes consumer devices a valuable tool in the battle against the pandemic. As user always has a smartwatch on their wrist and does not require any input from the wearer, it is relatively easier to detect COVID-19 as compared to the traditional test.

Many experts have talked about the use of devices, AI, and technology, especially in tracking the COVID-19. While not everyone prefers or can afford smart devices and their use, people who have them must wear them and use them to keep their health parameters under check regularly.