Fitness trackers can track how well you sleep, how quickly you walk, and how many steps you’ve taken.
However, during the pandemic, researchers looked into whether smartwatches could help detect COVID-19 or offer data on recovery.
According to US News, the new study combines various heart rate data to track the evolution of symptoms in people who have the coronavirus and to indicate how unwell they get when infected.
According to co-author Daniel Forger, a mathematics professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, fitness trackers detected that COVID-19 suppressed biological timekeeping signals in the study. The researchers also discovered indicators of altered resting heart rate and stress signals and differences in how a person’s heart rate responds to activities.
“Most people who use this data conceive heart rate as a single number,” Forger explained, “yet heart rate is a crucial indication that reflects so many distinct physiological processes.” “Can we take this one string of numbers, all these heartbeats, with all the noise and everything, and say something about other physiological signals?” says the mathematician.
While the previous study has focused on using wearable heart rate data to understand the disease better — this time, the researchers concentrated on breaking down the heart rate signal into pieces.
The researchers analyzed data from the Intern Health Study’s 2019 and 2020 cohorts, which follow physicians throughout their first year of residency. The Roadmap College Student Data Set examined student health and well-being over the 2020-2021 academic year. In that study, students wore Fitbits and self-reported their COVID-19 diagnosis and symptoms.
A total of 43 medical interns and 72 undergraduate and graduate students with a positive COVID-19 test were included in this new study. They had been using their fitness trackers for 50 days before the onset of symptoms and 14 days after symptoms.
According to the researchers, when COVID symptoms first appeared, the study participants’ heart rates increased per step. Individuals with a cough had a considerably higher heart rate each step.
The researchers speculated that a person’s daily resting heart rate increased when symptoms first appeared, possibly due to fever or heightened worry.
Individuals’ “circadian phase ambiguity,” or the body’s inability to time everyday activities, rose as COVID-19 symptoms appeared. The authors of the study speculated that this could be related to early indicators of infection.
The body’s circadian clock regulates wake-sleep rhythms, temperature, and more and heart rate.
Forger explained, “There’s an interesting animal study demonstrating that circadian rhythms become dampened around the time of infection. As a result, it’s physiologically logical. You have these large everyday changes in your body, but your body may not want you to have them if you’re unwell. It could be a good idea to turn off the timekeeping.”
According to the paper, the work creates algorithms that may be used to determine how an illness affects heart rate physiology.
According to Forger, the algorithms are now good enough to provide a more comprehensive picture of health, which could aid medical practitioners in triaging patients and making more informed judgments.
Caleb Mayer, a doctorate student in mathematics at the University of Michigan, stated, “I think now that we just have a better understanding of these parameter changes over time, it sets the stage for future real-time detection of disease. We’re not there yet,” says the researcher, “but I believe that breaking down the heart rate signal into all of these other systems is a critical step toward that goal.”
Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of Atlantic Health System Sports Cardiology at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey and past chair of the American College of Cardiology Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council, said that these wearables are now so common that the number of people who use them will only increase in the coming years.
Martinez, who was not involved in the research, said he frequently meets patients who bring him a slew of data from their trackers.
“I believe people must continue to take responsibility for their health care,” he stated.
Martinez added several cautionary notes about depending on this data. For starters, the medical community will have to figure out valuable data.
He believes that being able to track someone’s health information and collect data for individuals who cannot visit a doctor in person has value.
“I also like being able to monitor people in their natural surroundings so I can get a better sense of them. It also enables a more economical, real-time view of what’s going on with patients, “Martinez said.
The study’s limitations include the fact that it does not have influenza-like diseases and does not account for other factors such as age, weight, or gender. The data was collected during a period when flu and further disease transmission were high.
The findings were published in Cell Reports Medicine on April 19th.