Smart watches could predict higher risk of heart failure

April 4, 2023
Wearable devices such as smart watches could be used to detect a higher risk of developing heart failure and irregular heart rhythms in later life, suggests a new study led by UCL researchers.

The peer-reviewed study, published in The European Heart Journal – Digital Health, looked at data from 83,000 people who had undergone a 15-second electrocardiogram (ECG) comparable to the kind carried out using smart watches and phone devices.

The researchers identified ECG recordings containing extra heart beats which are usually benign but, if they occur frequently, are linked to conditions such as heart failure and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).

They found that people with an extra beat in this short recording (one in 25 of the total) had a twofold risk of developing heart failure or an irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) over the next 10 years.

The ECG recordings analyzed were from people aged 50 to 70 who had no known cardiovascular disease at the time.

For the new paper, the research team used machine learning and an automated computer tool to identify recordings with extra beats. These extra beats were classed as either premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), coming from the lower chambers of the heart, or premature atrial contractions (PACs), coming from the upper chambers.

The recordings identified as having extra beats, and some recordings that were not judged to have extra beats, were then reviewed by two experts to ensure the classification was correct.

The researchers first looked at data from 54,016 participants of the UK Biobank project with a median age of 58, whose health was tracked for an average of 11.5 years after their ECG was recorded. They then looked at a second group of 29,324 participants, with a median age of 64, who were followed up for 3.5 years.  

After adjusting for potentially confounding factors such as age and medication use, the researchers found that an extra beat coming from the lower chambers of the heart was linked to a twofold increase in later heart failure, while an extra beat from the top chambers (atria) was linked to a twofold increase in cases of atrial fibrillation.

UCL researchers