Fitbit gets FDA approval for passive heart rate monitoring

A Fitbit feature that passively monitors users’ heart rhythms has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the company announced today.

The feature periodically checks the wearer’s heart rhythm and alerts them if they show signs of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that puts people at higher risk for stroke. Fitbit already had an FDA-approved EKG app that can take samples for the condition, but users had to take those measurements manually. The new tool runs in the background.

Fitbit conducted a study that tested the feature in 2020, which found that the technology could correctly identify cases of atrial fibrillation 98 percent of the time. Adding this tool to Fitbit devices will bring the heart monitoring technology closer to the Apple Watch, which also passively scans wearers to try to identify heart rhythms that suggest someone might have atrial fibrillation. Neither device can diagnose, but they signal potential problems that someone can talk to their doctor about.

The Fitbit team said in a blog post that passive atrial fibrillation “can help reduce the risk of potentially life-threatening events — such as stroke — and ultimately improve overall heart health for everyone.” That’s the hope for this type of device — that it could help people catch atrial fibrillation early so they can take steps to better monitor their heart health. But it’s still unclear whether these kinds of features actually protect people’s health.

Fitbit said the new feature will be available “soon” to users in the United States.

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