I’ve always appreciated the overall capabilities and features of the Apple Watch. It’s easily my second-favorite Apple device of all time and I love using it. I’ve always been impressed by all of the information that it tracks for you in the Health app and I know it can be invaluable. I’ve linked to several stories here about lives that were saved by the Watch over the last three years. I’ve even used this data, myself.
At at the same time, it’s so easy to take what this device can do for you for granted. I appreciate what it brings to the table a lot more after this weekend.
So I got sick Friday night. I was already tired from a long week, so the fatigue after dinner didn’t really get my attention. It was also much colder than normal here Friday night, so I didn’t even notice the chills at first. But when the nausea came on and the chills got worse, I knew something was up.
In the past, I would have written this off as a garden variety stomach virus from one of several known bugs that are highly contagious, but run their course quickly. They certainly aren’t any fun, but they aren’t anything to worry about for most of us. However, in the midst of a pandemic, things change. These same symptoms can also mark the onset of COVID-19, which is an entirely different matter.
My head was still clear enough on Friday to start reading up on what symptoms could look like. I had plenty of time since I was up past 3 AM fighting off symptoms. Thankfully, I didn’t get violently ill. I just felt terrible until I was finally able to settle enough to get to sleep. The biggest thing I found in the reading is what comes after the gastrointestinal symptoms with COVID-19- high fever, coughing, and in some cases, much, much worse. Do you get better rapidly or start feeling worse, but in different ways? That seems to be the dividing line.
A low fever started In the early AM Saturday and would last all day before finally breaking late that evening. I was good all day yesterday and feel 100% like myself again today. It was just a stomach virus, and based on the symptoms, probably Norovirus. Here one day and completely gone in a day or two. So what does the Apple Watch have to do with any of this?
While I was reading online about COVID-19 starting with gastro symptoms and what comes after, I was reminded about something else I had come across recently. One way to catch mild symptoms that could be COVID-related leading up to something worse is by watching your resting heart rate. As your body works harder to fight off the infection, it can drive this number much higher than normal.
By the time I was reading this, my heart was already racing and by breathing was heavier in response fighting on the virus I was hit with. The high numbers weren’t making me feel better about the situation, but the great thing about your Health data from the Watch is that it isn’t just instantaneous. It is tracked and trended over time, which is what allows you to establish baselines for your current health and then see the impact of different things on it.
In my case, this stomach bug came on very fast, as they often do. Most of what I read about COVID-19 detailed a somewhat slower, steadier progression of symptoms once they came on. Going back to what I had read about resting heart rate, knowing that my heart was then beating at a much-elevated 90-110 BPM while laying in bed, I checked my history in the Health app.
Without giving too many specifics, my numbers right up to the hour I started feeling bad were solid. Good, in fact. After some elevated blood pressure and less than ideal heart rate, resting heart rate and HVR numbers two years ago, I made some diet changes. I also started taking some supplements to help and my job naturally got more active as I started spending more time on my feet in the field, rather than in the office Behind a desk. None of those numbers were at the point of me being put on prescription meds, but I was headed in that direction.
Even before my fever broke on Sunday, I pretty much knew that I wasn’t facing the onset of COVID-19. My fever was low-grade and never registered above 99.7. However, it was the Apple Watch’s heart data, before, during and after, that really helped track what was happening. I was able to see that my heart numbers were solidly down the middle for a man my age right up until the hour symptoms came on. I saw them at their worst when I felt my worst Friday night and over the early AM Saturday. The Watch was then able to track them as they gradually came back to normal over the next day and a half. My resting heart rate began to head back to normal by midday Saturday, which was a good indication that things were clearing up, rather than about to get worse with another wave of different symptoms on the horizon.
This is far from the limit of how you can track COVID-19 markers with Apple’s Heath app, either. I have a good home blood pressure monitoring cuff that I bought two years ago when I was getting some disturbingly high readings during doctor visits. The more that happens, the more it can get in your head, bringing on what Doctors and nurses call “White Coat Syndrome.” I wanted to start tracking my BP consistently and see what it really was, not just when I got nervous sitting in an exam room.
It was definitely lower than what the nurses were reading, but it was also higher than I wanted it to be. The ability to track it over time motivated me to make changes and get the numbers down to a healthier level. I’m happy to say I’ve been able to do that over the last two years.
Tracked BP is also valuable information at this time because of the negative impact COVID-19 on those with high blood pressure. This is considered one of the more at-risk groups, so if you have blood pressure issues and you don’t have a Bluetooth blood pressure monitor, think about getting one now. If you start feeling off, the tracking capabilities in Apple’s Health app will give you the before and during picture you need to be aware of.
Another purchase I am also considering myself now is a blood oxygen level sensor. Those are a little less common in stores, and they are in very high demand right now. However, they can be a lifesaver if you come down with seemingly mild COVID-like symptoms. It has become common knowledge that patients with this disease can start to see their oxygen levels drop before they feel how low they’ve become. That is part of the reason for heavier breathing and a higher resting heart rate. It is the body compensating for getting less oxygen. In many cases, people end up crashing quickly and dying at home or barely making it to the hospital because they aren’t aware of how serious the situation is.
If you have a blood oxygen level sensor that connects to your iPhone and Apple Health BEFORE you get sick, you can start to see any deterioration in you numbers. You can know with more certainty whether it is safe to stay at home or whether it’s time to get to a hospital for more aggressive treatment.
My situation with this stomach virus ended up being a simple one. That said, anytime a device you already own and is with you every day can help you rule out being infected by a disease causing a worldwide pandemic, that is a very good thing. I don’t think I will take that for granted anymore.