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Fitbit Announces the First Large-Scale Virtual Study to Identify Atrial Fibrillation
May 12, 2020 News


Fitbit has launched the Fitbit Heart Study, its first large-scale, virtual study to validate the use of its wearable technology to identify episodes of irregular heart rhythm suggestive of atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common form of heart rhythm irregularity. This study is part of the Company’s broader strategy to make easy-to-use tools that accelerate detection of a range of conditions more accessible. The Fitbit Heart Study aims to enroll hundreds of thousands of people, and its results will support the Company’s regulatory submissions globally.

AFib affects nearly 33.5 million people worldwide[1] and patients with AFib have a five times higher risk of  stroke.[2] [3] As episodes can be sporadic and asymptomatic, it can also be difficult to detect, and some studies suggest that as many as 25 percent of people who have an AFib-related stroke only find out they have AFib after a stroke has occurred.[4]

“Until recently, tools for detecting AFib had a number of limitations and were only accessible if you visited a doctor,” said Steven Lubitz, M.D., M.P.H, principal investigator of the Fitbit Heart Study, cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “My hope is that advancing research on innovative and accessible technology, like Fitbit devices, will lead to more tools that help improve health outcomes and reduce the impact of AFib on a large scale.”

Powered by long battery life, Fitbit wearables have the unique potential to accelerate AFib detection because of their 24/7 heart rate tracking, allowing users to wear their device for multiple days at a time. This enables long-term heart rhythm assessment, including when users are asleep. Screening the body when it is at rest is the optimal way to identify irregular rhythm through heart rate tracking technology, making assessment overnight, while people sleep, ideal for detection.

“Since we first brought heart rate tracking to the wrist in 2015, we have continued to innovate and provide users with a deeper understanding of their heart health through features like Sleep Stages, Cardio Fitness Level and now Active Zone Minutes,” said Eric Friedman, Fitbit co-founder and CTO. “The Fitbit Heart Study advances our heart health efforts. Long-term passive heart rhythm assessment with our wide range of affordable devices powered by 24/7 heart rate tracking technology has the potential to improve earlier identification of AFib, which is a key to reducing the risk of a life-threatening event like stroke. By doing this important research we have the opportunity to develop and provide access to technology that may be able to improve public health and save lives.”

Fitbit’s devices use photoplethysmography (PPG) technology to track heart rate in measuring the rate of blood flow directly from a user’s wrist. Theoretically, these measurements can be used to determine a user’s heart rhythm, which Fitbit’s algorithm will analyse for irregularities in the Fitbit Heart Study. Study participants who receive a notification about an irregular heart rhythm will be connected with a doctor for a virtual appointment at no cost to get more information and may receive an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch in the mail at no cost to confirm the notification.


Broader commitment to heart health

The Fitbit Heart Study is part of Fitbit’s broader approach to heart health innovation, which includes industry partnerships and the development of other technologies focused on raising awareness and accelerating detection of AFib to reduce the risk of stroke and improve population health. The company has made significant progress in the development of a new electrocardiogram (ECG) feature for spot detection of AFib in addition to the technology being examined in the Fitbit Heart Study.

Fitbit aims to provide users with both long- and short-term AFib assessment options based on their individual needs and is developing PPG and ECG tools that could offer both long-term assessment and spot-check AFib detection. The Fitbit PPG-based heart rhythm tool is designed to identify irregular rhythm episodes with no symptoms that might otherwise go undetected, and the Fitbit ECG feature is designed to support those who want to screen themselves for possible AFib and record an ECG trace they can review with their doctor. The Company has completed a pivotal clinical trial of its new ECG feature.