Kardia delivers instant EKGs – may save your life

Kardia is nothing short of a medical marvel – and a great example of how wearable tech is becoming invisible. The Kardiaband, a little sensor integrated into an Apple Watch strap, is hardly noticeable, yet delivers an instant, medical-grade cardiogram (EKG): Something that can help save your life.

There are two Kardia devices – Kardiaband, built into a high-quality silicon wristband for Apple Watch, and Kardiamobile, which pairs with an iPhone. For both, just start the app, place your thumb or finger on the sensor(s), and sit back. After just 30 you get a detailed EKG. And by detailed, we mean to the point where it has achieved medical-grade certification from the US FDA.

The Kardia devices detect Atrial Fibrillation (AF), where the heart skips a beat. A fluttering, quivering or irregular heartbeat – known medically as arrhythmia – can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AF, according to the American Heart Association.

In securing US FDA approval, and official listing by the UK National Health Service, Kardia parent company AliveCor is making the most of its head-start in the market. However, serious competition is coming: Apple is reported to be working on adding additional health-tracking elements to the next-generation Apple Watch.

In December, AliveCor announced a U.S. patent which covers the use of data collected from wearable devices as a means of assisting the diagnosis of heart arrhythmias, including those that may be asymptomatic. U.S. Patent Number 9,839,363, entitled “Discordance Monitoring,” tracks “disagreement between a user’s heart rate and activity level”. This could be suggestive of any number of heart problems, including the silent killer: Atrial Fibrillation. Although the patient does not show any symptoms, this can lead to a stroke or heart failure.

Kardiaband on test

We’ve been testing Kardiaband, which gets the thumbs-up for functionality and convenience. The tiny, self-powered device gains many insights – including the ability to export an instant cardiogram straight from your iPhone, as a print-out, an email or a PDF. This means instant sharing with your physician, so patients may monitor their ongoing heart health from anywhere, and without being restricted to a hospital or clinic.

AliveCor says the US $199 / EUR 219 Kardiaband and US $99 / EUR 125 Kardiamobile are much cheaper than alternatives such as holter monitors (battery-operated portable devices that measure and record heart activity continuously for 24 to 48 hours) or implantable loop recorders. Kardia is also completely non-invasive and therefore far more convenient, and less obtrusive.

Running Kardia’s SmartRhythm monitoring on a 3rd-generation Apple Watch takes a heavy toll on the device battery, since it puts the watch into workout mode, which provides continuous heart-rate monitoring. Leaving it running reduced our Watch battery life to a day.

Taking an instant EKG is as easy as it could be – and discreet, too. Just start the Kardia app on Apple Watch, tap Record EKG, and place your thumb on the metal sensor in the band. After the near-instant “signal detected” notification, a 30-second EKG starts. If you’d prefer to monitor for a longer period, that can be changed in the free iPhone app settings.

At the end of the 30 seconds, the Watch vibrates and within two seconds, the results are analyzed, giving an instant diagnosis. Results are shared from the phone. It’s possible to run an EKG and send results to a doctor within a minute, and without even getting up from your chair or out of bed. An EKG can be run anywhere, anytime. Did that movie make your heart beat faster? Now it is possible to find out – in quite some detail.

Although the technology is super-discreet, younger members of our household noticed a high-pitched tone when the Kardiaband sensor is brushed lightly with a fingertip.

Instant heart analysis – a massive step forwards for wearable tech

For anyone with an irregular heartbeat, Kardia is an enormous boost – allowing instant diagnosis, and to pick up anomalies early. We’d also recommend that anyone who doesn’t currently have any heart problems, but is interested in using wearable technology to monitor their health, should try Kardia.

The Kardia app is free and new users get a month’s premium service: ample time to determine whether they have any heart problems. After that, free functionality drops down to simply being able to record an EKG, but not store or share. SmartRhythm monitoring is also a premium-only feature.

That said, for anyone who runs a regular check and finds an anomaly, a monthly subscription of $9.99 / EUR 9.99 or an annual fee of $99 / EUR 99 is a small price to pay for ongoing heart monitoring and peace of mind.


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