Reliability of Smartwatch Heart Rate Monitoring and ECGs: What to Trust?

If you own a smartwatch, it’s highly likely that it comes equipped with heart rate monitoring, even the more budget-friendly options. However, some higher-end models boast the capability to perform electrocardiograms (ECGs). But just how reliable are these features, and can we trust the results they provide?

Today, we’re delving into this topic to gain a better understanding of how to interpret these results and discern which data we can genuinely rely on.

heart rate apple watch

Is My Smartwatch Accurately Measuring Heart Rate?

Before diving into the reliability of ECGs, it’s essential to ensure that your smartwatch accurately measures your heart rate. If not, attempting an ECG would be futile. You can perform a simple check by manually measuring your pulse and comparing it to the heart rate reading displayed on your watch. If they align closely, you’re on the right track.

Now, let’s explore ECG capabilities with a test on the Apple Watch Series 8, known for its advanced features. Here are the results:

According to Apple’s device, there are no indications of a heart problem. However, does this mean you’re not experiencing a heart issue? To answer this, we consulted a specialist from SESPA (Health Service of the Principality of Asturias) who provided valuable insights.

The readings from a device like this are indeed genuine. Judging by the displayed ECG waves (as shown in the image), it can effectively detect a heart attack, as the patterns are clear and wouldn’t be generated artificially. In this regard, it’s quite impressive.

ecg apple watch 8

But there’s a crucial aspect to consider.

The device is measuring the heart’s electrical activity specifically at the point where you wear the watch, typically on your left or right arm. It cannot, however, provide a comprehensive view of your entire body. Standard ECGs use 12 leads to cover different parts of the body. Therefore, while you can have some faith in it if it indicates a problem, you shouldn’t rely on it to rule out a heart issue elsewhere in your body.

In summary, the smartwatch’s ECG feature is genuinely effective but has limitations in its scope.

A Madrid public health service doctor on YouTube explains a more comprehensive method to conduct a full ECG to get a thorough understanding of your heart’s condition. However, this process can be cumbersome and time-consuming, making it less practical, especially when immediate action may be required during a potential heart attack.

The video certainly provides an interesting perspective, but it reiterates the same point—while smartwatches like the Apple Watch can generate a derivation closely resembling a real one, they can’t replace the precision of a full 12-lead ECG.

So, if you were considering a smartwatch primarily for its ECG feature, keep in mind that it’s not as precise as one might hope. It’s not the device’s fault; it’s the inherent limitations of this technology. Despite their marketing, these devices, while they do perform ECGs, might not provide as much practical utility as initially suggested.