Wearable Heart Monitors Positioned To Detect Cardiac Anomalies In Athletes

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) remains the leading cause of death in athletes, with recent studies showing the condition occurs more frequently than historical estimates.[1] Currently, there are more than 350,000 SCA-related deaths each year.[2] Stuart Long, CEO of InfoBionic, a digital health company that created the MoMe Kardia Platform, confirms that remote cardiac monitoring that is FDA cleared for diagnosis of arrhythmias is the next logical step after an alert from an athletes’ consumer wearable if confirmed by a physician.

Stuart Long

According to a recent study by the University of Toronto, health screenings only identify young athletes who are at risk for cardiac arrest. However, more than 80 percent of cardiac cases are not discovered through systematic screening, researchers say. In fact, a significant problem with current screenings is that they exclude people whom are perceived healthy enough to safely engage in sports.3

A separate study sponsored by the National Institute for Health of 2,640 competitive soccer players featured data collected from 1974 until April 2004. From this population, there were 62 reported cardiac arrests; 24 were sudden death events; and 38 were resuscitated from cardiac arrest.4  SCA is responsible for as many as 20 percent of all deaths in the U.S.,  according to the study, and “50 percent of sudden cardiac deaths are first cardiac events, meaning the patient did not know they had heart disease,” Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, a professor at the University of Miami (Fla.) and a cardiologist said.5

In the U.S., on average, one young competitive athlete dies suddenly every three days. Young athletes are twice as likely to experience SCA than young non-athletes. Exacerbating the issue is that no two heart conditions are the same, as demonstrated by several young professional athletes who have suffered in-competition cardiac events.6,7

Consumer wearable devices can detect worrisome irregular heartbeat in many cases. However, the perceived lack of accuracy is leading to skepticism around false positives. For example, devices that employ electrocardiogram-like technology can be hindered when an athlete’s skin is wet, limiting or impairing the device’s readout, especially impacted by artifact or noise during intense activity. Wearers who receive an alert through the watch’s technology are instructed to consult a physician who can provide further diagnostics.8

A growing group of wearables such as watches are educational tools that help raise awareness but are non-medical grade devices and the findings are not qualified for use in the clinical setting. They show promise for early detection of health risks, including arrhythmia, though, meaning the potential of the technology is enormous even if they contain no medically valid data.8

“Available FDA cleared technology for remote cardiac monitoring can provide valuable information almost immediately to the team physician, cardiologist or a first responder should a cardiac event occur on the field of play,” Long said. “The devices are enabled to send detailed heartbeat data to the cloud, making it available on a doctors’ mobile device. This technological advance can enable rapid diagnosis and intervention for patients experiencing cardiac events.” These remote “full disclosure” monitors provide entire waveforms that include the onset and offset of an event, with a system capturing and analyzing the data 24/7 while making 100 percent of the data it available to the physician on demand.

Advances in cardiac monitoring technology benefit the entire population, Long says. “As consumer-based technology continues to improve and mature they will become a solution for clinical use,” Long said, “and further automate cardiac detection and streamline diagnosis in real time, unlike traditional monitors.”


  1. David M. Siebert and Jonathan A. Drezner; “Sudden cardiac arrest on the field of play: turning tragedy into a survivable event”; Netherlands Heart Journal; Mar. 26, 2018; Web.
    “Young Athletes & Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)”; Boston Scientific; May 11, 2019; Web.
  2. Maureen McFadden; “Preventing sudden cardiac death in young athletes”; WNDU News; Apr. 13, 2018; Web.
  3. Staff; “The Intriguing Problem of Arrhythmias in Competitive Athletes”; Science 2.0; Jan. 31, 2007; Web.
  4. Wasfy, Hutter and Weiner. “Sudden cardiac death in athletes,” NCBI.nlm. April 2016. Web.
  5. K.C. Johnson; “Bulls and Lauri Markkanen are doing the right thing — and the smart thing — by taking a break”; Chicago Tribune; Mar. 28, 2019; Web.
  6. Gabriel Baumgaertner; “Why Isn’t Kenley Jansen Pitching This Weekend? An Amateur’s Guide to the ‘Irregular Heartbeat’”; Sports Illustrated; Sept. 7, 2018; Web.
  7. Neergaard, Lauran. “Apple Watch May Spot Heart Problem, But More Research Needed.” USA Today. 17 March 2019. Web.

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