Apple Watch Alerts Man to Serious Heart Condition

John Lister's picture

A man says his life may have been saved by his Apple watch. A heart rate alert revealed he was experiencing a serious problem.

Kevin Pearson was, by coincidence, visiting his father in hospital when he got the alert. It came from his watch, which tracked his heart rate. Normally that's to reveal general patterns as well as tracking how quickly the rate returns to normal after exercise, an important fitness indicator.

However, the watch alerted Pearson to the fact his heart rate was at 161 beats per minute even though he was sitting down reading a book. Given his age of 52, that's a rate that wouldn't be expected unless he was exercising to his full physical capacity.

Watch Spotted Unusual Pattern

Although he wasn't showing any symptoms of a heart attack, he followed the watch's advice to remain still for several minutes to check if it returned to normal. While his heart rate dropped, it bounced up and down dramatically, moving between 79 beats per minute and 135 beats per minute in a matter of seconds. (Source:

He then asked a nurse for help and was fitted with professional heart rate monitors that confirmed he was experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib). That's where the heartbeat is not only higher than normal, but is beating irregularly. AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

The cause isn't entirely understood, but it involves abnormal electrical impulses in the heart that cause it to contract seemingly randomly. (Source:

Heart rate History Provided Insight

Mr. Pearson was then taken to see specialists at another hospital who are continuing to monitor his condition. Treatment for atrial fibrillation can include medication, or an electric shock to 'reset' the heart's rhythm. Doctors say that the readings could have indicated a more serious problem such as a blocked artery or an impending heart attack.

Although Mr. Pearson says he hadn't previously taken much notice of the heart rate feature, it proved particularly useful in two ways. One was that the watch software is set to alert the user if it ever tracks a rate that's significantly out of the ordinary rather than simply rising with exercise.

The other is that the watch and associated online account had stored a complete history of his heart rate. He was able to pass this on to the doctors which helped them get more insight into possible causes of the condition.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use a fitness tracker? Would you do so if it meant lower health insurance premiums? Should such devices be set up by default to alert users to significant changes in readings?

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Focused100's picture

You're dammned if you do and dammned if you don't. The info is nice to have and may have saved his life. But Big Brother is watching....

kitekrazy's picture

How does one not know if their rate is over 160? Not buying it.

Jim's picture

I am an MD. While it is reasonable to say that the watch alerted the man to a serious condition, it's a bit of a stretch to say it saved his life. AFib is not in and of itself a life-threatening condition; thousands upon thousands of people are walking around in AFib all the time. It can lead to heart failure, which can be more serious, or even stroke, but it it likely that the man would have noticed the high heart rate long before that. @kitekrazy, it IS quite possible that he didn't notice it at first, though.

So yes, good job Apple watch, you definitely helped this man out. But you didn't "save his life" in the literal sense of the word.