Detecting Diseases By Analyzing the Pulse Waves of Heartbeats

Arterial Pulse Waveform

Arterial Pulse Waveform

Recently, I saw a Master’s thesis defense at my Alma Mater, the University of Winnipeg, Applied Computer Science. Jingjing Xia analyzed the shape of heartbeats in patients known to have different diseases. By applying math and algorithms, she was able to find strong correlations between the disease, and the shape of the heartbeat.

Pulse wave analysis has actually been around since Mahomed wrote about it in 1872 and there has been more research since then. Researchers have studied the shape of the heartbeat, made measurements of the different sections of the graph, and applied math to it.


First, Xia determined an equation to fit the pulse wave, a complex sum of eight sine waves. Then the first and third derivatives were taken from the equation. From the derivatives, the locations of different points of the heartbeat were able to be identified: the wave foot, systolic peak, and reflected point. From these numbers, the Reverse Shoulder Index (RSI), and Ratio of Distance were determined.

Once all the numbers were known, correlations were run between the different measurements and the known diseases of the patient. They did find a number of correlations between the heartbeat’s pulse wave, and various cardiovascular diseases: coronary heart disease, hypertension, and chest pain.


One thought is that this has a lot of the ingredients of data science: mathematics & statistics, computer science & algorithms, data and a distinct subject area. 

Those of you who follow my blog know that I like to make complex subjects, simple. This is exactly what is happening here.

The correlations also look similar to business intelligence. Perhaps if lots of data were put into a database, with an interactive GUI on top of it, more doctors and data scientists could analyze the data and find more correlations with more diseases.

Practical Applications:

My sense is that this research will have great practical applications.

This could easily be turned into a product: the pulse wave analysis machine. It would take measurements off the finger, have the device analyze the heartbeat, then compare the results to known diseases or afflictions. This could then give doctors a good idea of potential medical issues to investigate further, using more conventional tests, specific to the diseases or afflictions. Because the heartbeat is taken externally off the finger, it’s both non-surgical and non-invasive.

Compared to a complex MRI machine, the hardware for the device would be relatively simple. As a result, the device should be relatively inexpensive, allowing it to become quite common in medicine. It could perhaps become a common machine in hospitals, a new specialty, or new research area in medicine.

While it’s quite intuitive that cardiovascular diseases would be correlated to one’s heartbeat, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps other diseases could also be associated, and be investigated further.

Lie detectors measure physiological changes in one’s body as one lies. Perhaps the shape of the heartbeat would change also. Could this factor make the lie detector more difficult to fake?

When people smoke, their heartbeat rises dozens of beats per minute. Does the pulse wave of the heartbeat also change?

What about the effects of illegal drugs on the heartbeat? Does the pulse wave take a specific shape, if one has been taking anabolic steroids or other banned substances? This could be applied to someone who comes into the hospital unconscious. By the time the blood is drawn, perhaps doctors would already have an idea of potential drugs that might already be present.

What about mental health? Is the pulse wave different for people who have psychiatric issues such as depression, schizophrenia, or a psychopath?

Love And Your Heartbeat:

One of my initial humorous thoughts was that when we are in love, our heart beats stronger. Does the pulse wave change too? I’ll bet it does.

If the product was cheap enough, perhaps many people without medical training, such as psychologists, could begin to study these questions outside the medical establishment.

Some questions to study might be: what does the pulse wave of love look like? Does love affect disease? What kind of love is it? Husband and wife? Parents to children? Children to parents? True love, lust or infatuation? Is the person truly in love? Some of the areas to study could be really fun.  🙂

More Applications:

I remember one thing from some motivational training that I did. Brain waves can only be detected from a short distance. But heartbeats can be detected from a much longer distance. The brain is the micro-controller for the engine (heart).

Would Steve Jobs and other marketers have liked to see if one’s heartbeat changed when using Apple products? Is this the dark side?

Another area could be: does the heartbeat of a Buddhist monk in meditation change?

There seems to be a lot of possibilities.

The initial paper can be found here:

There were more diseases in the completed thesis than the initial paper. When the thesis is published, you will be able to read about them.


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