The New Apple Watch Measures Your Blood Oxygen. Now What?

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The brand new Apple Watch may be summed up in two phrases: blood oxygen.

The power to measure your blood’s oxygen saturation — an general indicator of wellness — is essentially the most important new function within the Apple Watch Collection 6, which was unveiled this week and turns into out there on Friday. (The watch is in any other case not that completely different from final yr’s Apple watch.) The function is especially well timed with the coronavirus, as a result of some sufferers in essential situation with Covid-19 have had low blood oxygen ranges.

However how helpful is that this function for all of us, actually?

I had a day to check the brand new $399 Apple Watch to measure my blood oxygen degree. The method was easy: You open the blood oxygen app on the machine, hold your wrist regular and hit the Begin button. After 15 seconds, throughout which a sensor on the again of the watch measures your blood oxygen degree by shining lights onto your wrist, it exhibits your studying. In three assessments, my blood oxygen degree stood between 99 p.c and 100 p.c.

I wasn’t fairly certain what to do with this data. So I requested two medical consultants in regards to the new function. Each have been cautiously optimistic about its potential advantages, particularly for analysis. The power to continually monitor blood oxygen ranges with a point of accuracy, they mentioned, might assist folks uncover signs for well being situations like sleep apnea.

“Steady recording of information may be actually attention-grabbing to see traits,” mentioned Cathy A. Goldstein, a sleep doctor on the College of Michigan’s Drugs Sleep Clinic, who has researched information collected by Apple Watches.

However for many people who find themselves comparatively wholesome, measuring blood oxygen on an on a regular basis foundation may very well be far more data than we’d like. Ethan Weiss, a heart specialist on the College of California, San Francisco, mentioned he was involved that blood oxygen readings might breed nervousness in folks and cause them to take pointless assessments.

“It may be constructive and destructive,” he cautioned. “It might hold folks out of docs’ places of work and at house and provides them reassurance, nevertheless it might additionally create a whole lot of nervousness.”

That’s essential to recollect as sensible watches acquire new health-monitoring options that give us details about ourselves that we’ve got to determine how one can use. When the Apple Watch Collection four launched {an electrical} coronary heart sensor for folks to take electrocardiograms in 2018, it was helpful for folks with recognized coronary heart situations to watch their well being — however docs warned that it was additionally a novelty that shouldn’t be used to leap to conclusions or for folks to self-diagnose coronary heart assaults or different situations.

And so, right here we’re once more.

A wholesome particular person will often have blood oxygen ranges within the mid- to excessive 90s. When folks have well being situations akin to lung illness, sleep problems or respiratory infections, ranges can dip to the 60s to the low 90s, Dr. Goldstein mentioned.

If you happen to purchase the Apple Watch and have entry to details about your blood oxygen ranges on a regular basis, it’s essential to have a framework for occupied with the information. Most significantly, you need to have a main care doctor with whom you possibly can share the measurements to be able to place it into context together with your general well being, like your age and pre-existing situations, Dr. Goldstein mentioned.

However in terms of medical recommendation and prognosis, at all times defer to a health care provider. If you happen to discover a giant dip in your blood oxygen degree, it’s not essentially a purpose to panic, and you need to discuss to your physician to resolve whether or not to analyze. And when you have signs of sickness, akin to fever or a cough, a standard blood oxygen studying shouldn’t be a purpose to skip speaking to a medical skilled, Dr. Goldstein mentioned.

Let a medical knowledgeable — not your watch — create the motion plan.

Blood oxygen monitoring could also be extra helpful for people who find themselves already recognized to have well being issues, Dr. Weiss mentioned. For instance, if somebody with a historical past of coronary heart failure noticed decrease saturation ranges of their blood oxygen throughout train, that data may very well be shared with a health care provider, who might then modify the therapy plan.

The data is also used to find out whether or not a sick particular person ought to go to the hospital. “If a affected person known as me and mentioned, ‘I’ve Covid and my oxygen degree is at 80 p.c,’ I’d say, ‘Go to the hospital,”’ Dr. Weiss mentioned.

In the long run, well being information by itself isn’t instantly helpful, and we’ve got to resolve how one can make the very best use of the knowledge. Apple doesn’t suggest what to do or how one can really feel in regards to the data, simply as a rest room scale doesn’t let you know you’re obese and offer you a food regimen plan.

If you happen to discover that the information makes you extra anxious, you may merely disable the function, Dr. Goldstein mentioned.

However even when blood oxygen measurement sounds gimmicky right this moment, it’s essential to maintain an open thoughts about how new health-monitoring applied sciences may profit us sooner or later. Each Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Weiss pointed to sleep apnea as an space the place wearable computer systems may profit folks. The situation, which causes respiration issues throughout sleep, impacts tens of millions of People, however most individuals by no means know that they’ve it.

It’s a little bit of a catch-22. If you happen to had signs of sleep apnea, which embody decrease blood oxygen ranges, your physician would order a take a look at. However you most likely wouldn’t catch the signs whilst you have been asleep, so a examine would by no means be ordered.

The Apple watch will periodically measure your blood oxygen degree within the background, together with when you find yourself asleep. So if we collect information about ourselves whereas we’re slumbering, we’d uncover one thing unknown about ourselves — or not.

“Till we begin doing it, we don’t know whether or not or not this data may be beneficial,” Dr. Goldstein mentioned.

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