The Apple Watch has ushered in a new era of wearable health devices that track the person’s heart rate and breathing patterns. These devices have been known to identify potential health issues before the person receives a diagnosis.
But a nurse from New Zealand says her Apple Watch could have helped her detect a “rare thyroid problem” after months of symptoms. She says that if she had paid attention to the data, she would have been aware of her diagnosis before she went to the doctor’s office.
A Little Help from Apple
Lauren Rebecca says she was officially diagnosed with thyroiditis in December after months of symptoms including fatigue, temperature sensitivity, and weight gain.
“I’ve had all of these symptoms that were quite ongoing for a few months,” she said. “With Covid and our healthcare system being so overwhelmed with everything I thought, ‘no, no, I’m just tired, I’m just rundown, I’ll be alright’”.
Rebecca first assumed that her symptoms were the result of burnout after working as a nurse during the pandemic, but they were actually a sign of something much worse. Her symptoms eventually got so bad that she had to go to a doctor.
“I’ll go out in the sun and feel nauseous, and it’s really subtle as well — the aircon pretty much has to be at 22 degrees at my house all the time,” Rebecca said.
An ultrasound revealed that she had half of her thyroid missing,” which is described as “a rare congenital defect known as Thyroid hemiagenesis, which only affects about 100 Australians.”
The condition led to thyroiditis, the underlying cause of her symptoms.
Two months after her diagnosis, Rebecca was still suffering from symptoms. That’s when she decided to check her Apple Watch app to see if it was working. She looked through the data to see a “dramatic change in her health that if she had known, would have prompted her to seek medical help.”
“I genuinely just went on it to see if everything was turned on,” she said.
“I saw that there were alerts at the top of the app that had never come through as notifications because I didn’t have notifications turned on … I looked through it and that’s when I could see the trend that my Vo2 max had dropped, literally in a matter of days.”
Vo2 max indicates how well the person’s body is absorbing oxygen during exercise, with the drop meaning Lauren could suddenly not take in oxygen as well as she had previously.
“Instead of me waiting for the symptoms to get really bad, I could have gone to the doctor back in October, when there was this dramatic drop in a matter of days,” Rebecca explains in the video.
She is currently awaiting treatment for her condition while she studies for the GAMSAT, the Australian graduate medical school admissions test.
“That’s a five-and-a-half-hour exam and at the moment I get so fatigued by lunchtime, so if I had detected it back in October it could have been put into action a bit quicker about treatment plans and potentially get on top of the fatigue,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t be in this position of always being tired and [not knowing] whether it is going to impact my exam.”
Rebecca then took to TikTok to share her findings where she regularly encourages her followers to pay attention to the data on their Apple Watches.
“We have so much technology available and a lot of the time it’s more of a burden than something positive,” Rebecca said.
“But something as simple as an Apple Watch if you’ve already got it, it just constantly monitors your heart rate, it monitors different things we do while exercising, things we wouldn’t necessarily think to do like check our heart rate after we work out or while we’re sleeping.”