Credit: Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
You may have heard of a feature called “ECG” — aka EKG — making its way onto wearables as of late. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, Apple Watch Series 6, Withings ScanWatch, and others are amongst several smartwatches that now come with an ECG sensor.
What is ECG?
Short for electrocardiogram, an ECG is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart.
With each beat, an electrical wave is sent through the heart. This causes it to contract and pump blood to the rest of the body. An ECG measures this electrical wave to help determine the health of the user’s heart.
It does this by measuring the amount of electrical activity in the heart and the time between heartbeats. This can help determine if the heart’s activity is normal, slow, fast, or irregular. It can also tell if parts of the heart are too large or overworked.
ECG vs EKG: Is there a difference?
The only difference between ECG vs EKG is the spelling of the abbreviation. ECG is an abbreviation for electrocardiogram or electrocardiograph — which are both English words — while EKG is an abbreviation for the German spelling of elektrokardiogramm. Functionally, electrocardiogram sensors and elektrokardiogramm sensors are the exact same things.
How does ECG work?
In the past, this technology was exclusively used by medical professionals to evaluate patients. Through this process, a medical technician attaches ten adhesive electrode patches to a patient’s chest, arms, and legs. Those patches connect the patient to a machine that interprets and displays the heart’s electrical patterns for a doctor to evaluate. The process is very easy, completely painless, and should only take about ten minutes to complete.
So, if this way of performing an ECG is so simple, why does it need to be a feature in wearable technology? For starters, people with heart issues need to frequently monitor their heart health. That can be difficult at times when you can’t see a doctor right away. Buying a wearable with an ECG sensor can be a good way to keep an eye on things without setting up doctor appointments every other week.
Importantly, a wrist-based ECG is by no means a replacement for a professional medical ECG test. It may be helpful in some circumstances, but you should always consult your doctor regarding heart health.
Also read: The best heart rate monitors and watches
Are there any downsides to ECG watches?
Credit: Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Now that we’re seeing Fitbit, Apple, Withings, and other companies integrate ECG sensors into their wearables, why doesn’t every smartwatch come with one? There are a few factors as to why this is the case.
First, ECGs in consumer-grade wearables are certainly a niche feature. If you don’t have heart issues, you may not use your wearable’s ECG more than once! Companies that make wearables know this, which is a reason why we don’t see ECGs tacked onto every single smartwatch. This will likely continue to be the case going forward.
Also, in order to sell a wearable with an ECG, the sensor first needs to receive medical clearance before going to market. In the US, ECGs need to be FDA certified, while CE clearance needs to be granted in Europe. We’ve seen this approval process completely halt devices from launching in certain regions.
The Withings ScanWatch, which was announced in January 2020, is still awaiting FDA approval in the US, meaning it hasn’t been able to go on sale in that region. However, CE clearance was granted early on, so you can buy the device in that region.
Fitbit also ran into the issue with the Fitbit Sense. It actually launched the smartwatch on time in the US, though FDA clearance came a few months later. ECG functionality finally rolled out to the watch in October 2020.
Which wearables have ECG sensors?
As mentioned, a growing number of consumer-grade wearables now have ECG sensors. Here are some of our favorites:
Why should you consider buying an ECG watch?
Wrist-based ECG is primarily for people who need to evaluate their heart patterns regularly for whatever reason.
Maybe they have a heart arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation (AFib) they need to monitor. Perhaps the user previously had a heart attack and is hoping the wearable will catch any irregularities before it’s too late. Maybe heart issues run in their family and this is one easy step they can take to be proactive.
In the end, if you are reading this article because you didn’t know what an ECG/EKG was, you probably don’t need one on you at all times. But for some of you, this functionality could be revolutionary, even if just to offer some peace of mind.