Supraventricular Tachycardia: Or, A Trip to the ER with my Apple Watch

Overall, I’m a pretty healthy person. My blood pressure’s normal, my resting heart rate is in the low 70s, my cholesterol is normal, my blood sugar is normal, and I can go for a good long bike ride or walk without feeling winded. I’m heavy — my BMI is obese — but I’m in good health overall. (General reminder that BMI is BS.)

I bought my Apple Watch Series 4 when Apple announced it this summer, an upgrade from my Series 2. I was attracted by the fall detection (I’m an award-winning accident prone fellow) and also by the new ECG feature. I have a family history of atrial fibrillation, and I’m now 40, so some precautions seemed wise.

This afternoon, I was helping a client move offices, mostly just deconstructing a simple network rack and moving access points into new space. I was doing some physical work, but nothing anyone would mistake for exercise. But, then I felt it. My heart was pounding. I got dizzy. Tunnel vision. I had to sit down.

heart rate city

I took my heart rate on the watch and it was over 200. I spent five years as a competitive swimmer, and to my knowledge I never got above 195. Even riding up Box Hill on Zwift didn’t get me over 170 this winter. 200 is scary territory. I remembered the ECG functionality, and googled how it worked. I took a reading.


I didn’t know how to read it, and I knew I was in a bit of trouble, so I had a coworker take me up to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, a mile or two away. Triage saw me rapidly, and I unlocked my phone to show the nurse. She was setting up a more complicated EKG, but because my heart rate had dropped back toward normal, it might not have any clear result they could read beyond just normal operation.

As soon as the tele-doc came on screen, the nurse rotated my phone and put it up to the camera to show the doctor the rapid rhythm from half an hour earlier.

“Oh, that’s an SVT,” he said immediately.

I didn’t see what it had to do with Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, but he clarified that he meant Supraventricular Tachycardia. They wanted to make sure labs were taken, and that nothing abnormal in my blood work showed a more troubling cause. But the diagnosis was there in an instant, thanks to my wrist watch.

Both the attending and her supervisor wanted a look before the day was done, and I was sent home with instructions to go see my doctor (don’t worry, I’m going on Thursday), but now I’ve got something to show my medical team, as well.

Sure, a lot of the time it feels like we live in a dystopian version of the future, and I’m still not sure where the flying cars are, but today I used my wrist computer — list price $399 — to take an ECG before arriving at the emergency room, where a doctor, appearing in my room via video conference, was able to read that medical diagnostic and make a snap judgment that I was probably going to be alright for now.

Apple remains a company that exists five to ten years into the future, building bridges back to the present. Touch ID and Face ID. Secure Enclave. Device Enrollment Program. Apple Watch Series 4 Health Tools. Perfect? No. Better than the rest? By miles and miles.

Thanks, Apple. My heart is in your hands, it seems.


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