When Ed Dentel updated his Apple Watch, he didn’t expect it to upend his weekend, much less change his life.
The 46-year-old communications consultant from Richmond, VA, does taekwondo with his family three times a week, bikes and skis frequently, and had no history of heart problems.
He said he’d installed the software update with the electrocardiogram app to play around with it.
“The application on the launch sounded off right away with atrial fibrillation—not something I’ve ever heard of, but since I’m in pretty decent health and never had a problem before, I didn’t give it much thought. I figured something was glitchy, so I set everything down turned in for the night,” Dentel told ABC News.
The next morning, over breakfast with his 7-year old daughter, he put his watch back on.
“Right away: AFib. So, I shut everything down and turned it back on and tried it again. Same result, same result, same result,” he said. He asked his wife to try. Hers came back normal. Twice. “I put it on my left wrist, on top, AFib. I put it on my left wrist, on the bottom, AFib. I switch to my right wrist. Same thing. So, starting to get a little bit alarmed here.”
Atrial fibrillation, commonly called AFib or AF, is a specific kind of irregular heart rhythm. If left untreated, it can weaken heart muscles and increase the risk of stroke.
Dentel drove to a nearby urgent care center. The parking lot was full, the waiting room was crowded, so he almost left, he said.
Checking in, Dentel said he felt like a hypochondriac explaining that his watch told him something was wrong. But he was quickly given an EKG by a technician, who called for a doctor, who said, “Yup, you’re in AFib. This thing may have just saved your life.”
Because of his relatively young age and good health, the doctor referred him to a cardiologist for an outpatient visit. After an exam, a review of the EKG and an ultrasound, his diagnosis was confirmed.
AFib is the most common kind of irregular heartbeat, according to the American Heart Association’s website, which defines it as “the abnormal firing of electrical impulses causes the atria (the top chambers in the heart) to quiver (or fibrillate).”
The most common symptom is a fluttering heartbeat, while others include an abnormally fast heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness or chest pain.
AFib can result in heart palpitations, complications, weakened heart muscle, and an increased risk of stroke, said Michael N. Cho, a cardiologist at Crystal Run Healthcare in Middletown, New York.
In Dentel’s case, he had a rapid and irregular heartbeat, even though he appeared asymptomatic.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is the latest version of the company’s smart watch. With this latest software update, all hardware versions can monitor heartbeats, but the user has to download the software and turn it on in the device’s settings. Only the Series 4 can produce the EKGs. None of the devices can tell you if you are having a heart attack. AFib is a precursor to potential blood clots, stroke and heart attack.