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Helping your heart: There’s an app for that

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Smartphone apps encourage you to take an active role in monitoring and boosting health.

When it comes to healthy hearts, technology is playing a greater role than ever, and not just in the doctor’s office. Now nearly anyone can use computer programs designed to improve heart health, thanks to downloadable applications (apps) for smartphones, tablets, and home computers. They’re part of a trend known as mobile health or mhealth. “In general, health apps can provide very valuable information, as long as you understand their limitations,” says Dr. Randall Zusman, a cardiologist with the Corrigan-Minehan Heart Center at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School associate professor.

Lifestyle apps

The most reliable apps act as sources of information or as electronic journals that chart and graph your progress.

Diet apps do everything from suggesting heart-healthy meals and recipes to calculating how many calories you’ve consumed and how many you need daily to lose, maintain, or gain weight.

Exercise apps promote cardio fitness by helping you develop and maintain a heart-healthy exercise program. Some apps show videos of workouts; others create exercise routines tailored to your goals and needs. You can also wear a fit-ness-tracking device that sends physical activity information to a health app that evaluates your progress.

Medication apps alert you when it’s time for you to take a medication and when it’s time to get a prescription refilled. These apps also keep records of your adherence and results, as long as you enter which medication you’ve taken and when, and any symptoms you have.

Emergency apps show you how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), in the event of a heart attack, or how to use or locate an automated external defibrillator (AED), which can save the life of someone suffering from sudden cardiac arrest.

Heart apps

Some apps promise to track and chart specific heart-related measurements.

Pulse apps have you place your finger over the camera lens in a smartphone or tablet, and the app measures your heart rate by tracking color changes in the fingertip. This is helpful for people who want to check their pulse while at rest or while working out.

Blood pressure apps ask you to manually enter your latest blood pressure reading, or to attach an external blood pressure monitor (sold separately), which takes the reading and loads the data automatically. The information is then charted, graphed, or even sent to your doctor.

Heart rhythm apps instruct you to attach a special device (sold separately) to a smartphone, and either place your fingers on the device or touch the device to your chest to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) of the heart’s electrical activity. The purpose of such apps is to attempt to detect irregular heartbeats.

Choosing an app

You’ll find health apps through Internet sites such as the iTunes store or Google Play. Some apps must be purchased, usually for a few dollars, and other apps are free. Medical devices that connect to your smartphone or computer in conjunction with an app, such as a blood pressure monitor, may cost hundreds of dollars.

But don’t believe the promises of every app. Apps that claim to diagnose or treat a health condition must have FDA approval. Apps that don’t have FDA approval usually say in the fine print that the information is for entertainment purposes only.

“Don’t think of these apps as treatment devices, but do think of them as information-gathering devices,” says Dr. Zusman.

What you can do

Do your homework before using an app. Ask your doctor for recommendations, and read reviews of apps and their effectiveness, which are available on most app websites.

Apps from universities or well-known health organizations (such as the American Heart Association) are most reliable. Try an app for a few days or weeks and see what it offers. If you decide you don’t like it, just delete the app from your device.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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