Low levels of healthy red blood cells can cause anemia, an illness that has the kind of symptoms you might brush off: dizziness, weakness, headaches, or feeling tired. A new mobile app called AnemoCheck can tell you if you might have anemia just by looking at your fingernail.
The technology looks at the nail bed pinkness as a barometer for hemoglobin levels. A study in published in Nature concluded the test was sufficiently accurate and sensitive to work as a screening method. Erika Tyburski, the founder of Sanguina, the company behind the app, says that it’s about 10% less effective than a blood test. However, the company is not seeking federal approval for its app. Instead, it sees AnemoCheck as a lifestyle tool, particularly for those who suffer from chronic anemia.
In particular, anemia can be an issue for women of childbearing age: The World Health Organization estimates that 6.9% of such women in the U.S. have the low hemoglobin levels associated with the condition. Outside of the U.S., it’s much more prevalent. Around the world, 1.6 billion people suffer from anemia. In some countries it affects roughly half of all women of childbearing age.
One of the most common causes of anemia is iron deficiency, though a deficiency of other essential vitamins can also cause anemia. Unless the anemia is severe, the symptoms may not be very noticeable, reducing the odds that it will be identified.
Tyburski says that her goal is to make anemia screening accessible. Typically anemia is only diagnosable with a blood draw. While the app cannot definitely detect whether or not someone has anemia, it can help patients and doctors know whether to run a test for anemia. “The core of our company is education and engagement,” she says.
The tool is aimed at reaching patients who may think they have anemia as well as those for whom the condition is a recurring issue. Tyburski thinks the app may also resonate for the quantified-self crowd—people who want to measure every aspect of their health in hopes of living healthier lives. She wants to launch additional tools for those prone to anemia, such as an at-home finger-prick blood test that can more accurately determine hemoglobin levels. This test was approved for prescription use by the FDA, but Sanguina is now seeking over-the-counter approval.
AnemoCheck is now available in the Google Play store; Sanguina says it’s coming soon to Apple’s App Store. The app is free to download, with tests available individually or in packs as in-app purchases. A pack of 12 tests is $10.