Checking for heart problems? There's an app for that

Cardiio Rhythm detects atrial fibrillation by photographing patients' faces(Credit: weerapat/Depositphotos)

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm) and left unchecked, it can potentially cause strokes. Ordinarily, it's detected by hooking the patient up to an electrocardiogram (ECG). Now, however, an iPhone app has been developed that non-invasively does the same job.

Known as Cardiio Rhythm, the app was created by a team at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. It utilizes the phone's camera to analyze subtle changes in patients' facial skin color, which are an indicator of fluctuations in their heart rate. It's not unlike the BabyBeat system, which monitors infants' skin tones for signs of the onset of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

When tested on 85 patients – 25 of whom were already found to have had atrial fibrillation via readings obtained from a 12-lead ECG – the app was able to able to detect the disorder with an accuracy rate of 92 percent. While that's not perfect, the scientists say that it could be handy for large-scale community atrial fibrillation screenings. Plus, it's still being perfected.

The research was recently presented in New Orleans at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2016.

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