Apple Watch heart features finally arrive, allowing people to take ECGs on their wrist

Feature has finally been approved by US regulators

Andrew Griffin
Friday 07 December 2018 18:11 GMT
(AFP/Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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The Apple Watch's long promised heart features have finally arrived on people's watches.

When the Series 4 was announced in September, the company said that it would let people take ECGs and see if their heartbeat is irregular.

But it would not be available straight away because it had to be approved by regulators, it said at the time.

Now the features have been given clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration and so will finally be available, arriving through a software update.

The ECG and atrial fibrillation features are not yet available outside the US, including in the UK. A number of checks are in place to ensure that the owner cannot bypass that protection: simply switching a Watch's location to America won't make it available, for instance.

The UK does get the watch's high and low heartbeat notifications, which will tell the owner if it detects an unusual heartrate. The ECG features will be coming to other places once they are approved by local regulators.

The watch can intermittently check the wearer's heart rhythm in the background and send a notification if it detects irregular heart rhythm. That can point to atrial fibrillation, a condition that can increase the risk of stroke and other complications. Apple says the watch will notify users if it detects an irregular rhythm on five checks over at least 65 minutes.

When symptoms appear, users can also take an EKG, or electrocardiogram, and share that with doctors. This feature is available for the latest, Series 4 version of the watch. The app, called ECG, comes as part of a free software update for the watch.


The irregular heart notification is available for older models, too, starting with the "Series 1" model in 2016. It doesn't work with the original, 2015 model.

Apple is adding medical features to make the watch feel more useful to people. A fall detection feature launched in September. It claims to be able to tell the difference between a trip and a fall — and when the latter occurs, it will suggest calling 911 (or the equivalent outside the U.S.). If it receives no response within a minute, the watch will automatically place an emergency call and message friends and family designated as emergency contacts.

Additional reporting by agencies

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