April 19 (UPI) – A smartwatch that can track heart rate can be used to monitor disease progression in people with COVID-19 and can predict how sick they will get, a study published Tuesday revealed.
Pulse pr. steps tracked with a smartwatch, a measure of heart and lung function, rose after COVID-19 symptom onset and were higher in study participants who reported a cough, data released Tuesday by Cell Reports Medicine showed.
In addition, the circadian phase uncertainty, or the body’s inability to time daily events, increased around the time of COVID-19 symptom onset in study participants, the researchers said.
Because uncertainty in the circadian phase relates to the strength and consistency of the circadian component of the heart rate rhythm, it may correspond to early signs of infection, they said.
Similarly, the daily basal heart rate, or a person’s heart rate at rest, tended to increase at or before the onset of virus symptoms. This may be due to fever or increased anxiety, the researchers said.
All of these could be used to spot new infections and identify cases of serious illness caused by the virus, they said.
These measures were significantly altered during COVID-19 and could show symptomatic versus healthy periods in the lives of smartwatch users, according to the researchers.
“Identifying the different patterns of different heart rate parameters derived from wearables during COVID-19 infection is a significant advance for the field,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Srijan Sen in a press release.
“This work can help us more meaningfully track populations in future COVID-19 waves,” said Sen, professor of psychiatry and director of the Eisenberg Family Depression Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Previous studies have shown that COVID-19 has long-term effects on the heart rate of those infected.
Researchers know Johns Hopkins University and Duke Universityhas, among other things, worked with portable devices that help detect the presence of disease based on changes in heart rate, body temperature, sweat and other parameters.
For this study, Sen and his colleagues followed 43 medical interns and 72 students from the University of Michigan who reported a positive COVID-19 test, experienced symptoms of the disease, and had smartwatch-measured heart rate data from 50 days before symptom onset to 14 days after.
Using the heart rate data, the researchers were able to estimate when participants were infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and measure how sick they became, they said.
Participants with the disease experienced an increase in heart rate per steps after symptom onset, and those with cough had a much higher heart rate per. steps than those without cough, the data showed.
That heart rate increases tended to occur around symptom onset could be an indication of the effects of the stress-related hormone adenosine on people with the virus, the researchers said.
The same approach could be used to detect other diseases such as influenza and to track diseases at home, or when medical resources are scarce, such as during a pandemic or in developing countries, they said.
“We found that COVID attenuated biological timing signals, altered how your heart rate responds to activity, altered basal heart rate, and caused stress signals,” study co-author Daniel Forger said in a press release.
“What we realized was knowledge of physiology, how the body works, and mathematics can help us get more information from these wearables,” said Forger, a professor of mathematics and research professor of computer medicine and bioinformatics at the University of Michigan.