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Study Shows Fitness Trackers Can Track Long-COVID Symptoms

A year ago, we reported that the Scripps Research DETECT study showed early promise in using fitness trackers to identify early COVID-19 symptoms (see “Wearables Like the Apple Watch Show Promise in Detecting COVID-19 Infections,” 3 June 2020). We now have an update from the study that corroborates those early studies and indicates that fitness tracker data can help chart the progression of the disease, long-lasting symptoms, and a patient’s recovery. Sometimes those recoveries aren’t quick. As many as a quarter of those who have had COVID-19 report suffering from symptoms long after the initial recovery, like brain fog, chest pain, depression, headaches, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath, collectively dubbed “long COVID.” The study found:

  • All participants with some sort of illness slept more, walked less, and had higher resting heart rates. But those who tested positive for COVID-19 had much higher heart rates than those with other infections.
  • The COVID-positive participants had a heart rate dip 9 days after symptoms appeared, followed by another rise in heart rate that lasted for months. It took 79 days for their heart rates to return to normal, compared to 4 days for those who didn’t have COVID.
  • 14% of participants with COVID had a heart rate that was 5 beats per minute more than normal for up to 2 months after being infected, and it took, on average, 133 days for their heart rates to return to normal.
  • Sleep and activity levels returned to normal much more slowly in the COVID-positive group.

The researchers believe that COVID-19 causes inflammation that disrupts the autonomic nervous system, which controls basic processes like heart rate. This data gives scientists more clues about the nature of the disease and could put to rest criticisms from those who say long COVID is a hoax.

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