We hear many stories from Apple Watch users who say the device has alerted them to potentially life-threatening health issues. However, a new story from Ohio is one of the first of its kind.
Ken Counihan says a combination of respiratory rate and blood oxygen data from his Apple Watch alerted him to a potentially fatal condition last fall…
Apple Watch respiration rate and blood oxygen data
As reported by local news company News 5 in Cleveland, Ohio, Counihan is an avid Apple Watch user who relies on the device for exercise tracking, sleep tracking and more. However, last October he noticed that his respiratory rate was elevated. Your respiratory rate is the number of breaths you take per minute. minute, and an elevated number can signal a number of potential health problems.
The Apple Watch is able to monitor your breathing rate while you sleep. Since Counihan wears his Apple Watch for sleep tracking, the Health app was able to collect his breathing rate and look for trends and changes in those trends. The Health app offers a “Health Trends” feature that can notify you when there is a change in a specific metric.
In his case, Counihan decided to go to outpatient treatment, where he was x-rayed and eventually sent home with bronchitis medication.
“I got an alert back in October that my breathing was elevated. So basically you have a certain number of breaths per minute, basically saying I went from 14 to 17 or 18,” Counihan said. “My wife made me call my son and he suggested I go to the ER and get it checked out, which I did. And they just did an X-ray. And they gave me some medicine for bronchitis at the time .”
Later that day, however, Counihan received another alert on his Apple Watch: his blood oxygen level was dropping. “My blood oxygen — which is normally in the mid-90s, which is what it should be, kind of 95 and up — started getting out to the mid-80s,” he said. At the request of his family, Counihan then reluctantly went to the emergency room.
Using the numbers he provided from the Apple Watch, plus additional vitals gathered in the emergency room, doctors ordered a CT scan. This CT scan is what revealed the underlying cause of Counihan’s symptoms. “They took me back for the CT scan and found I had blood clots all over my lungs,” he said.
Counihan was then prescribed blood thinners and is “feeling much better,” and he credits the Apple Watch with saving his life. He says doctors told him that if he had gone to bed instead of going to the emergency room that night, he “may not have woken up the next morning.”
“What the doctor said as a follow-up was that if I hadn’t gone in, he said that 60% of people who have this condition at that time – if I went to bed, I might not have woken up the next morning” Counihan said.
“I’ve got three kids and two grandkids, hopefully some more grandkids in the next few years, I just want to continue to enjoy it,” Counihan said. “I have friends who have gone out and bought an Apple Watch as a result. I just had dinner with a friend the other night … and he’s looking to get an Apple Watch now. It saved my life. It’s fantastic.”
Dr. Lucy Franjic, an emergency physician at the Cleveland Clinic, echoed Counihan’s praise for the Apple Watch:
“We have patients come in and they notice these trends of ‘my heart rate is higher than normal’ or ‘it shows me that … I have an abnormal rhythm,'” Franjic said. “And so having those pieces of information can kind of just help the doctor try to diagnose what the underlying problem is and help prevent life-threatening emergencies from occurring.”
This is an interesting look at how two pieces of data collected by the Apple Watch can be used together to alert someone to larger health issues. Of course, the Apple Watch itself can’t alert someone to a potential blood clot, but it can provide the insight needed to prompt someone to seek further medical attention.
This is also one of the first – if not the first – times we’ve seen the blood oxygen feature in the Apple Watch used for something like this. Apple itself says that the blood oxygen function is “designed for general fitness and wellness purposes only,” but the data can clearly still be broadly useful as a reference point for other health concerns.
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