If you’ve ever wondered whether upgrading to the Apple Watch ECG functionality might justify an upgrade to the Series 4, cardiologists say probably not…

CNET consulted several cardiologists, who said there is little overlap between Apple Watch owners and candidates for AFib.

Sales research from the NPD Group shows that adults ages 18 to 34 are buying smartwatches more than any other age demographic. And EMarketer predicted that in 2019 consumers ages 25 to 34 will remain the largest group to purchase wearables.

Contrast that with the fact that the CDC estimates AFib affects somewhere between 2.7 million and 6.1 million Americans, but the majority of those people are over the age of 65. In fact, only approximately 2% of people younger than age 65 have AFib and it’s estimated that only 1% of the population may have undiagnosed AFib. In the latter two groups, AFib episodes are often brief, cause no symptoms and may not require treatment.

This is all to say that if you’re young, healthy and don’t already have any diagnosed health problems, you might not experience significant benefits from the ECG app, or the watch’s other heart rate features

Indeed, as has been suggested before, the feature could cause unnecessary worry.

Venkatesh Murthy, MD, professor of preventive cardiology at the University of Michigan, estimates that 90 percent of irregular rhythm alerts in younger groups are false alarms.

As a result, experts worry that putting Apple’s screening technology on the wrists of millions of people who are likely to be young and healthy could increase the risk of over-treatment.

None of this is to say that the feature is completely pointless. Rare as AFib may be among the Apple Watch demographic in percentage terms, a tiny percentage of a large demographic still adds up to a significant number of cases.

And while the Apple Watch ECG feature may be of limited value to the general population, it may have the potential to be be a valuable tool for those already diagnosed with AFib.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with AFib or are experiencing prolonged periods of heart palpitations or a racing heartbeat, talk to your doctor about whether at-home monitoring is right for you. For now, both Murthy and Pearson are holding off on recommending that their patients get an Apple Watch solely for its irregular heart rhythm features.

“I generally recommend devices that can record continuous ECGs over long periods of time rather than the intermittent snapshot of the Apple Watch,” says Murthy. “That said, future data may help us decide if that’s necessary or if intermittent ECGs coupled with photoplethysmography-based rhythm monitoring [like what the Apple Watch does] is sufficient.”

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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