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Wearables Know When You're Sick Before You Do

By Hillary Eaton ; Updated August 14, 2017

While wearables can help you track everything from the number of steps you took to the amount of sleep you got, there’s a new “feature” wearables are able to provide that’s pretty surprising. Now they can determine if there’s something wrong with you — even before you know it yourself.

According to the Huffington Post, a new study out of Stanford University has shown that using a fitness tracker or other wearable device (depending on what it measures) has the ability to provide information about its wearer that can point to underlying medical conditions, ranging from a looming cold to the developments of certain types of cancers. Meaning now you can keep tabs on your health in real time.

The study, published in PLOS Biology, includes data from more than 60 volunteers and generated in excess of 1.7 billion measurements, including skin temperatures, sleep patterns, activity, heart rate and even radiation exposure.

The Huffington Post explains that a wearable tracker can be used to create a person’s physical “baseline,” giving the wearer an idea of their physical “normal.” So if there are fluctuations from that norm, that information can be used by a doctor to diagnose the reason for the change.

One example that Huffington Post draws on is when Mike Snyder, one of the study’s founders and participants, was (unbeknownst to him) bitten by a tick. As he began to feel woozy he checked his trackers and saw that he was also experiencing a slight fever and had an abnormal resting heart rate — all information that helped his physician diagnose him with Lyme disease within the short window of time while the it was still treatable.

Other significant findings of the study include using data from insulin-resistant participants to develop a simple set of measurements to predict if other wearers are insulin resistant and provide a warning before they become Type 2 diabetic.

The most surprising data the Huffington Post points out is that the researchers were able to match the sensors’ feedback that indicated something was wrong with high CRP (C-reactive protein) levels in the blood, which point to inflammation from infection and even immune dysfunction, as with autoimmune disorders or cancer.

“Not only can these inexpensive devices capture this information at a personal level and so quickly,” Snyder told the Huffington Post, “but they can do so with an almost negligible error rate.”

But is there such a thing as having too much information? Critics of relying on fitness trackers for medical information worry that people will be asking their doctors for unnecessary tests. But according to Scientific American, that problem can be remedied by artificial intelligence to sort through the mass amount of data. Peter Rasmussen, medical director for distance health at the Cleveland Clinic tells Scientific American: "we can begin to apply some higher-level artificial intelligence to machine learning to begin to look for trends we don’t even know exist. We may find wonderful things that we can [use to] intervene on patients before they are actually ill.”

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