Smartwatches and rings can’t be used to track this vital sign, FDA warns. What to know

From Apple Watches to Oura Rings, wearable health technology has exploded in popularity as devices offer more ways to track your health.

Some vital signs, like heart rate and sleep patterns, can help drive users to become more active or prioritize their health in new ways.

Others are more of a guess and shouldn’t be used to make medical decisions — and may even be dangerous.

That’s why the Food and Drug Administration warned smartwatch and smart ring users with diabetes this week to never rely solely on their device’s reported blood glucose levels.

Here’s what you need to know.

FDA issues warning

The FDA said any device that claims to report a blood glucose level without pricking the skin has not been authorized by the administration and does not provide accurate data, according to a Feb. 21 news release.

“The FDA has not authorized, cleared or approved any smartwatch or smart ring that is intended to measure or estimate blood glucose values on its own,” the administration said.

This doesn’t apply to smartwatches that are linked to sensors, the FDA said, like continuous glucose monitoring systems that are attached elsewhere on the body.

“For people with diabetes, inaccurate blood glucose measurements can lead to errors in diabetes management, including taking the wrong dose of insulin, sulfonylureas or other medications that can rapidly lower blood glucose,” the administration said. “Taking too much of these medications can quickly lead to dangerously low glucose, leading to mental confusion, coma or death within hours of the error.”

What devices are affected?

The FDA says the warning applies to “any smartwatch or smart ring, regardless of brand, that claims to measure blood glucose levels,” according to the release.

This includes any third-party app that claims to track blood glucose using one of the devices.

“These smartwatches and smart rings are manufactured by dozens of companies and sold under multiple brand names,” the administration said. “This safety communication applies to any smartwatch or smart ring that claims to measure blood glucose without piercing the skin, regardless of manufacturer or brand.”

Apple Watches don’t claim to track blood glucose directly, but the device does support apps that do, Healthline reported.

Fitbit devices also don’t claim to track blood glucose values, but they do have programming in the Fitbit app to track blood sugar trends over time if they are self-reported.

The company that makes the more recently popular Oura rings announced in June that the device is compatible with continuous glucose monitors, a type of device that attaches to the skin and reads glucose levels throughout the day, but it cannot track blood glucose levels on its own.

Who needs to track their blood glucose?

“We all need sugar in our blood to provide cells with energy,” associate medical director for the British Heart Foundation, Mike Knapton, said on the organization’s website. “The hormone insulin allows sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream to enter your cells, where it can be used for energy. If you don’t have enough insulin, sugar stays in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood sugar levels damage your blood vessels.”

Knapton said not only does this apply to those with type 1 or 2 diabetes, but it’s also important for coronary heart disease, kidney disease and diabetic eye disease.

People born with diabetes, type 1, or who develop the condition later in life, type 2, are unable to manage their insulin production naturally, and rely on blood glucose measurements for the dose and timing of their treatment.

Knapton said those who have had a heart attack and those who are at risk of diabetes, caused by age, diet or preexisting conditions, should also have their blood glucose checked as part of regular blood testing.

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