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Saved by a Smartwatch

03 Feb 2020 / 10:55 H.

ON a flight home from Langkawi over a year ago, Muhammad Farhat Haniff received an alert on his smartwatch that he had never seen before.

He had bought the Apple Watch Series 5 for its fitness features. Something to keep him on track to staying healthy. At the time, the watch told him that his heart was beating too fast for someone who was sitting down and stationary.

Farhat, a 30-year-old restaurateur and freelance architect, brushed off the notification. “I thought my anxiety over flying caused it”.

But, a couple of days later, it happened again.

While relaxing at home and getting ready to watch a movie, Farhat received another notification from his smartwatch, saying that his heart was beating too fast for someone preparing for a night in.

“I was at the gym a few hours prior, before sitting down to relax for the day,” Farhat said. “So I thought the warnings were an error with my watch.

I checked my pulse on the watch, and it said about 50bpm one minute and 115bpm a minute later. So I had my watch reset.”

Like most people, Farhat thought that turning his smartwatch off and on again would fix the problem. However, within a week, the same warning popped back up. At the time, he was in bed, getting ready to sleep.

This time he was sure it was not an error or a glitch. “My friends also told me that these types of alerts are not prone to errors,” said Farhat.

Although he did not feel any pain or discomfort, this third episode made him determined to get a check-up at a clinic.

“I can’t remember the exact date, but I went to a clinic in Cyberjaya. When I met the doctor he asked me why I was there. He checked all my vitals, and everything was fine,” said Farhat. “He measured my blood oxygen levels, my lungs, and told me that everything was fine. And asked me again, why I was [at the clinic].”

Farhat explained how his Apple Watch alerted him to his elevated heart rate, and how there was no pain, numbness or any other symptoms.

“I only felt discomfort because I was scared. I was 29 (at the time), and you don’t think about the health of your heart at my age,” he added.

The doctor administered an (electrocardiogram) ECG test on Farhat. He was anxious at the time, but fortunately the doctor was reassuring.

“[The test] only went for 10 to 15 seconds. When the results came, his face changed,” said Farhat.

The doctor administered another test and confirmed Farhat’s fears. His heartbeat was abnormal. Emotions overwhelmed him.

At the Putrajaya Hospital, Farhat was diagnosed with Ectopic Rhythm, an irregular heart rhythm due to a premature heartbeat.

However, the doctors were baffled. Farhat had felt no pain during his episodes and he had no family history of heart disease.

If it were not for the smartwatch and him heeding to the alerts, Farhat’s condition would not have been detected, and he could have been another undiagnosed victim of sudden cardiac arrest.

The ECG feature is currently available in all Series 4 and 5 Apple Watches, but while it has been certified in many countries, including but not limited to the US, UK and Singapore, it has not been given the green light by the Ministry of Health, nor by the government.

Thus, the feature remains dormant within the country, although it can be used outside Malaysia.

Farhat said: “I wish the ECG feature on the Apple Watch was made available in Malaysia, because it would have diagnosed the issue sooner and helped me monitor the rhythm of my heart better. I also notice locations where there are AEDs (Automated external defibrillator) because those can save my life.”

There are no treatments for Ectopic Rhythm, aside from experimental ones. Farhat monitors his heartbeat manually by feeling the changes in its tempo, staying off caffeine, and participating in moderate physical activity, to avoid triggering another episode.

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