A recent study provides clinical validation for the use of WatchPAT, a digital at-home sleep apnea test, in diagnosing sleep apnea in patients with atrial fibrillation. Published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep in December, the study compared WatchPAT to the current standard polysomnogram diagnostics conducted in a sleep lab. The results indicate that WatchPAT performs with an accuracy rate similar to the in-lab tests.

WatchPAT is made by Itamar Medical Ltd. The device is FDA-cleared and uses the company’s proprietary peripheral arterial tone (PAT) signal technology to identify respiratory events associated with sleep apnea. PAT refers to a signal generated by measuring arterial pulsatile volume changes at the fingertip. Patterns of arterial pulsatile volume changes correlate to disordered breathing events during sleep because such events cause a vascular response. The WatchPAT algorithm analyses the PAT signal, pulse rate, and blood oxygen levels to diagnose sleep apnea in patients with and without atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, a cardiac arrhythmia commonly found in patients with obstructive sleep apnea, can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other cardiac conditions. Addressing sleep apnea — itself a condition associated with severe health complications — can improve atrial fibrillation. However, atrial fibrillation patients often don’t experience noticeable signs of sleep apnea, leading to underdiagnosis.

The WatchPAT study included 101 participants across the US, Canada, Israel, and Germany. The results could boost the device’s use for early detection of sleep apnea in atrial fibrillation patients, leading to improved treatment outcomes. At-home sleep diagnostics may prove to have an advantage over onsite sleep labs, in that they analyze nighttime breathing events within the familiar normal sleeping environment. WatchPAT features a simple, comfortable setup, making the test easy to integrate into an ordinary night and typical sleep habits. It also offers a contactless diagnostic option, reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19.