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Motion-detecting smartphones can discover a deadly quiver in your heart

With innovations in fitness tracking and apps like Apple Health, the smartphone is making inroads into the world of preventative medicine. A team of researchers from Finland is pushing the smartphone even further into this realm developing a smartphone-based method to detect the dangerous and sometimes fatal heart condition of atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is a common type of irregular heartbeat in which the heart’s two upper chambers (atria) begin to beat too rapidly. As a result, the heart’s upper and lower chambers (ventricles) fail to work together, causing blood to pool in atria. This can produce blood clots that travel from the heart to brain, where they cause a stroke. The condition is difficult to diagnose since it often occurs for short durations and ends before the person can make it to a doctor’s office or a hospital for an electrocardiogram (ECG) evaluation.

Researchers from the Technology Research Centre (TRC), University of Turku, Finland, have developed a smartphone-based method of detecting Atrial fibrillation using a smoothing and specially designed algorithm. Researchers found they could place a smartphone on a patient’s chest while they were lying down and then use the phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope, to detect the rapid beating that’s indicative of AF.

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“We measure the actual motion of the heart via miniature accelerometers and gyroscopes that are already installed in today’s smartphones,” said lead author Tero Koivisto. “No additional hardware is needed, and people just need to install an app with the algorithm we developed.”

In a trial with 16 atrial fibrillation patients and 20 healthy patients, the smartphone app was able to detect. The atrial method was able to detect atrial fibrillation in 95 percent of the cases. The team hopes doctors and patients will adopt this technology and use it as an affordable way to monitor for atrial fibrillation. The team also foresees a future where a cloud component will store these recording and be utilized for a population-wide analysis of atrial fibrillation cases.