If you're addicted to tracking your steps, you might want to start paying more attention to your device's other stats, too.
If you're addicted to tracking your steps, you might want to start paying more attention to your device's other stats, too. Just ask 73-year-old Patricia Lauder. Her Fitbit literally saved her life after she noticed something was off with her heart rate.
Patricia started suffering from fatigue and began experiencing shortness of breath—even walking a short distance would leave her wiped, she told UConn Today. She also noticed that her Fitbit had flagged something unusual: Her normal resting heart rate of 68 to 70 beats per minute was increasing each day by five points—and one day it climbed to 140 beats per minute.
She said she had been feeling lousy for a few weeks, but medical tests, X-rays, and other lab work she had done didn’t turn up anything. “[I] thought I might be battling a bad cold or walking pneumonia that I just couldn’t kick,” she said.
The high heart rate led her to call 911 and get to the ER, where a CT scan showed that she had two pulmonary embolisms, i.e. blood clots in her lung arteries. The clots were stressing her heart and lungs, which is why her heart rate was constantly increasing, and her heart was enlarged from being overworked.
Patricia had to undergo minimally-invasive surgery to remove the clots, and her heart and lung function went back to normal 24 hours after her surgery. She now credits her Fitbit for saving her life.
“If I didn’t have a Fitbit on my wrist, I would never have known that my heart rate was getting dangerously high,” she said.
Pulmonary embolisms are more common in older people but they can happen to younger people as well, says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. Risk factors include taking hormonal birth control pills, pregnancy and childbirth—especially with a C-section, and obesity, she says.
Faster or irregular heartbeats and palpitations may be a sign of a pulmonary embolism because the heart is trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen transfer to the lung, she explains.
Everyone’s resting heart rate is a little different, so it’s hard to slap a number on what you should look out for, but if you use a fitness tracker, you probably have a decent idea of what is “normal” for you.
“If it's off by a few beats, it's probably nothing to worry about,” Wider says. “But if it's way off, it may be an indication that something is wrong.”
While fitness trackers aren’t medical devices—and are not 100 percent accurate—if your tracker tells you your heart rate is abnormal, Wider says it’s “very important” to see a doctor right away.