What Can Your Face Tell You About Your Heart?

Sep. 2, 2014

ECGA partnership between the University of Rochester and Xerox has created a new technology that can perceive subtle changes in skin color on the face and determine whether or not a person is experiencing atrial fibrillation, a treatable but potentially dangerous heart condition.

Using a standard web camera and software developed by Xerox, the researchers were able to determine a person’s heart rate without touching their body.  This was accomplished by tracking the changes in skin color that occurs as blood is pumped through veins in the face.

The key is the color green.   While imperceptible to the naked eye, hemoglobin found in the blood absorbs more of the green spectrum of light.  The sensors in digital cameras can detect these small fluctuations because the blood vessels are closer to the surface in our faces – the reason why we blush.

Atrial fibrillation is the result of irregular cardiac electrical activity that can cause poor blood flow to the body.  It is a treatable condition, however, it is estimated that 30 percent of the more than 3 million Americans with the condition are undiagnosed.   If untreated, it can lead to stroke.

The new technology could help detect the disease in these case and monitor patients after they have undergone treatment for relapses.

You can read more about the study, which appeared in the journal Heart Rhythm, here.