A Fitbit Fan is Born
Anyone 50+ should wear a smartwatch; it could save your life!
Last Christmas my husband gave me a Fitbit for Christmas. I asked for one because I was interested in tracking some health metrics. I have not slept well for years. I constantly wake up with night sweats and my doctor has been unable to diagnose the problem. Not sleep apnea, not hormones, not thyroid… you get the picture. I thought if I could track what was going on while I slept, it might help inform my doctor.
Even if the measurements are off by a few percentage points, the variation from your norm is an accurate measurement.
The Fitbit measures breathing rate, heart rate variability, skin temperature, blood oxygen saturation, and resting heart rate. It also tracks the length of sleep, how often you wake during the night, and the depth of your sleep, light, REM, or deep.
Of course, all Fitbits and other smart watches, come with warnings that they are not medical devices and cannot be relied upon to be 100% accurate. Fair enough. But what they do is measure your individual norms and variables. For example, if it measures your resting heart rate between 66 and 68 for two weeks, but then measures a sudden increase to 80 for no apparent reason, it is an indicator of a potential problem. Even if the measurements are off by a few percentage points, the variation from your norm is an accurate measurement.
In mid-August, I started using my Fitbit religiously. I have some health goals I want to achieve and having a way to measure what I am doing is helpful to stay on track. I walk 90,000 steps a week. I have not missed a day of walking since I started my mission on August 17. My resting heart rate has dropped from between 66 and 68 bpm to between 58 and 60 bpm. I have lost four inches from my core and 9 pounds of weight. I can now also climb a flight of stairs without getting winded. I am pleased with all these results. However, I still wake up constantly during the night, and I still have night sweats.
Last week I made an in-person appointment to discuss this problem, among others, with my physician. When I informed her I had been tracking these various metrics on my Fitbit, she was incredibly dismissive. She actually said, “I can’t use that information.” I was a little taken aback. I told her I understood the Fitbit came with warnings that they were not necessarily 100% accurate but queried if the information provided was not better than nothing. She had absolutely no interest in looking at what I had to share. I left the appointment feeling frustrated and unheard. Unfortunately, not an uncommon experience with my doctor, but this blog is not about her, it’s about Fitbits.
Fast forward a few days. My husband woke at 2 a.m. covered in sweat and with a racing heart. He checked his Fitbit and his heart rate was at 135 beats. That is very high for someone who just woke up. He splashed some cold water on his face and had a drink. Did a little deep breathing and laid back down. His heart was still racing, but he fell asleep again. When he woke up a few hours later, his heart was still racing. He measured his blood pressure, and it was fine. He did not feel dizzy and did not have any chest pain. He took it easy all day, but his heart rate continued to race. When he woke up Wednesday morning and it was still racing, he called the nurse health line. They advised him he was having a cardiac event and he should go straight to emergency. So, I loaded him into the car, and off we went.
By the time we arrived at emergency, he was about 30 hours into the episode. The triage nurse tested his blood pressure and heart rate. His machine matched my husband’s Fitbit exactly. They noted this on his chart. Because it was his heart, and his situation had been going on for so long, they rushed him into trauma. They determined he had atrial flutter. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, an atrial flutter is caused by a short-circuit in the heart that causes the upper chambers (atria) to pump extremely rapidly. If not caught and treated, it can cause a stroke that may lead to permanent disability or death.
If the heart has been at this rapid pace for over 48 hours, they must use chemical therapy to regulate the heartbeat. If, however, the episode has been occurring for less than 48 hours, they can use electroshock to regulate the heart’s rhythm. Because my husband was wearing his Fitbit throughout this event, he knew exactly when it started and what rate his heart was beating at throughout. Because they had already verified the heart rate on the Fitbit matched what their machines were saying, the medical professionals trusted its accuracy. It also informed the doctor that less than 48 hours had passed, so it was safe to use the electroshock method.
Thanks to the wonderful work of our outstanding medical professionals here in BC, my husband was home resting within 2.5 hours of us leaving for the emergency room. I believe totally that had he not been wearing a Fitbit, we would be looking at a very different situation right now.
The information gathered on the Fitbit also helped the medical staff make a faster diagnosis. And it allowed them to be confident in their treatment choice.
Before this happened, my husband had already set his Fitbit to his peak heart rate. Because he knew this rate, and he knew his heart was racing, he knew he could not exert himself on Tuesday. Had he not had this information, there is a very good chance he would have walked our dogs or exerted himself in some other way. Which, with an already accelerated heart rate, would have been disastrous. The information gathered on the Fitbit also helped the medical staff make a faster diagnosis. And it allowed them to be confident in their treatment choice.
I was/am so relieved my husband had this device. This experience also reinforced how shocked I am by my physician’s attitude toward the Fitbit. It is illegal for corporations to claim a product can do something it cannot. Health watches have been around for a decade. They have tested and improved the technology over and over. Fitbit, Apple Watch, or any of the others could not say these devices can do what they can if they could not do it. Healthcare workers need to be more aware of what these devices can do. They should also know what the caveats are of relying on them. But they should not dismiss them as useless toys, because they are not. Prior to wearing a Fitbit, I did not know what my resting heart rate was or how many hours of sleep I got at night. Now at least I have some idea. Physicians are quick to prescribe pharmaceuticals with very little information and testing. Now that they have more information available to them through health watches, they should be open to using that information.
As for everyone reading this, if you are 50+ years old, I highly recommend the investment in a health watch. I have absolutely no doubt if everyone wore one, they would avert heart attacks and strokes, and save lives.
Stay healthy my friends!