Researchers have discovered that it's possible to use existing smartphones today as a low-cost, convenient way to detect atrial fibrillation.
A dangerous arrhythmic condition, atrial fibrillation affects about 2 percent of the world's population and accounts for up to 7 million cases of strokes every year. In the European Union alone, arrhythmia leads to about $19 billion in expenses annually.
Atrial fibrillation is hard to detect because it often occurs randomly. However, with 70 percent of strokes brought about by the condition easily avoided with pre-emptive medication, detection is crucial.
There are devices in place now to detect atrial fibrillation but they are large, making them inconvenient to use, and costly. Additionally, long-term use of electrocardiogram devices lead to skin irritations because of patches or wires that are in constant contact with the body.
Presented at the European Society of Cardiology's ESC Congress 2016, a study aims to address these constraints with the help of an application that analyzes results from a smartphone's gyroscope and accelerometer.
For the study, the researchers worked with 16 patients from the Turku Heart Centre diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. For the control group data, they used recordings from healthy individuals to validate output from the app.
To check for atrial fibrillation, a person simply needs to place a smartphone on the chest while lying in a supine or prone position and take gyroscope and accelerometer recordings. The acquired data is then pre-processed using signal processing methods before multiple features like spectral entropy and autocorrelation are extracted. All relevant data are then analyzed by the app to determine if the person is suffering from atrial fibrillation, giving a simple "yes" or "no" to confirm the condition.
With this kind of setup, the researchers were able to detect instances of atrial fibrillation with a specificity and sensitivity of over 95 percent.
"Given the widespread use of smartphones, it has the potential to be used by large populations worldwide," said Tere Koivisto, the study's lead author.
As no additional hardware will be needed, those at risk of atrial fibrillation need only to install the app to get started with monitoring their condition.
However, those with atrial fibrillation and stroke risk have to be given proper medication to ensure the benefits of early detection are enjoyed.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in June, more than one in three patients with atrial fibrillation are only prescribed aspirin instead of the recommended blood thinners.
Because they have erratic heartbeats, those with atrial fibrillation have up to seven times higher risk of getting a stroke compared with those who don't have the condition.