AliveCor wearables may detect unsafe potassium levels in the future

High blood potassium, or hyperkalemia, is linked to a number of health issues.

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AliveCor is working on a new application for the technology behind its KardiaBand for Apple Watch. Last year, the FDA approved KardiaBand as a medical device, and it can record your heart rhythm and report on any rhythmic abnormalities that could be linked to dangerous health issues. Now, The Verge reports, AliveCor is developing a way for its technology to be used to detect high levels of potassium in the blood.

High blood potassium levels constitute a condition known as hyperkalemia. It can be related to a number of causes, including kidney disease, dehydration, injury and diabetes and hyperkalemia can affect heartbeat rhythm. Yesterday, during the American College of Cardiology conference, AliveCor presented work done with the Mayo Clinic showing that its technology can detect hyperkalemia through EKGs.

The researchers used electrocardiogram data collected from 709,000 patients over the course of 23 years, which included 2.1 million EKGs and 4 million blood potassium measurements. Two-thirds of that data were used to train a neural network to detect hyperkalemia through EKG readings. That network was then tested on the other third of the data. It was able to correctly detect cases of hyperkalemia 85 percent of the time and accurately label those that weren't hyperkalemic 72 percent of the time. The team also tested it on 10 patients using an experimental AliveCor smartphone EKG device and from almost 50 hours of data -- 5.4 of which recorded a hyperkalemic state -- the neural network was able to correctly spot hyperkalemia 94 percent of the time and non-hyperkalemia 74 percent of the time.

It's important to note that these findings are preliminary and AliveCor's technology hasn't been approved by the FDA to detect hyperkalemia. The company is continuing with its trials, The Verge reports, and will likely seek FDA clearance in the future.

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