How my FitBit landed me in the hospital

How my FitBit landed me in the hospital


Updated on February 18, 2018: About a year after I wrote the update below, I got myself an Apple Watch Series 1 and never looked back at my Fitbit. Whose band had broken. Twice. I don't wear the watch to bed, but instead let it charge on the bed stand next to me in a cute little Mac charging stand. [amazon_link asins='B01MYNE2BM' template='ProductLink' store='bettnetlinks-20' marketplace='US' link_id='ed91f10c-146f-11e8-9748-9750352deffe']

I know I don't sleep enough. I realize I don't need a watch or fitness band to tell me that.

Updated on February 18, 2016: Well, four years later and I have a new Fitbit (I lost the Ultra a couple of years ago and didn't replace it). This time I have a Fitbit Flex, which is a slim wristband device. I've been wearing it to bed each night and I'm happy to report that I have not slept with my head against it in such a way as to cause a pressure point on the nerves in my head, leading to numbness in my skull. That is, this time I'm not a numbskull.

Original Post: To be more accurate, the title should say, “How my FitBit may have landed me in the hospital.” But first, you’ll want to know what a FitBit is.

The FitBit Ultra is one of a couple of health-related gadgets from the company called FitBit. It’s a nifty little gadget that clips to your clothing or drops in your pocket. It keeps track of all your activity—walking, running, stair-climbing, and even sleeping. Then it communicates all this data automatically and wirelessly whenever you’re near your computer.

I’ve been trying to be more active lately, but found it difficult to stay motivated. When the alarm buzzes at 6:15am for my walk before work, it’s sometimes easier to roll over, especially when the kids have kept us awake all night. But playing some online games showed me that winning “achievements” and reaching goals were a good motivator for me and so when I saw the FitBit and its system of goals, badges, and accountability Tweets, I thought it would be just the thing.

Now the way it tracks your sleep is that you put a wristband on your non-dominant hand, slip the FitBit inside and set it to sleep mode. Then while you sleep it keeps track of your movements and how often you wake from deep sleep. Now, let’s put a pin in that and come back to it later.

Saturday morning, when I woke up, I noticed my forehead and right front scalp felt numb. I’ve woke with a numb forehead before, which I attributed to sleeping face down on my pillow or arm, but it always came back within a couple of hours. But this time it didn’t. By early afternoon, I still had no sensation in my scalp and it hadn’t got any better (or worse).

Melanie and I decided that I should call the Nurse’s Helpline that our health insurer provides. She asked me a bunch of questions related to both heart attacks and stroke. (This would be the first of a dozen different times in the next 24 hours I would answer these same questions.) She couldn’t say it was nothing and being a very conservative service, she suggested I call the on-call doctor for my primary care physician. He asked the same questions and said I should go to the Urgent Care center for his practice, which he said would be open until 7pm. (It was about 3:30pm by the time I talked to him.)

So I drove off by myself to the Urgent Care center, which is about 25 minutes south of us. When I got there, it turned out that the place closes at 4pm on the weekends. Thanks, Doc. So off I drove to the local hospital’s emergency room (about 10 minutes north of our house).

After giving my situation to the triage nurse, they immediately brought me back in a wheelchair, which I thought excessive. I saw a nurse, then an attending physician. They sent me for a CAT scan that showed nothing. (Yes, ha ha, they found nothing in my head.) So with the numbness still unexplained they thought there was still a real chance of a stroke, and I should see a neurologist… who would only be available in the morning. Ugh.

At first I was told I would be moved from the ER to a room upstairs in the cardiac monitoring unit, so I was fitted with an IV line and EKG electrodes and hooked to a monitor. Then I proceeded to wait. (My brother came to sit with me for several hours that night, for which I’m grateful.) I tried to read, but was too distracted. So I watched some TV and then tried to sleep, which was nearly impossible with all the talking and beeps and alarms and hullabaloo, not to mention the needle in my arm and wires wrapped about me. In the morning the nurse asked me if I got some sleep. Hah! Who can sleep in a hospital?

I never did get moved to the room upstairs, which meant the electrodes were pointless after all. But the neurologist ordered an MRI. Ugh. I’d heard the horror stories about claustrophobia and they were right. They laid me down on the table, put a cage over my face that touched my nose, put on headphones for music (because of the noise), and told me I wouldn’t be able to move for 45 minutes. They then started sliding me into a tube that would put me about an inch away from the sides.

I’d never thought I was claustrophobic before, but I could feel the panic rising. Perhaps the lack of sleep and anxiety over my still unexplained condition contributed to the feeling, but whatever it was, I was almost ready to push the eject button and demand to be pulled out when the technician stopped feeding me into the tube. It turns out my shoulders were too wide. Thank God for my stout build! They pulled me out of the device and told me that I’d have to use the larger MRI in the cancer center next door, which was only open during the week. (This was still Sunday.)

They sent me back out to wait for the neurologist to see me and this time I was sent to a private room. While I lay on the stretcher outside the room, waiting for them to make it ready, I was wondering if Melanie would be able to contact our pastor and have him bring me Communion, since I was missing Mass. Wouldn’t you know it, just a few minutes later I see a man walk by holding a gold pyx. I stopped him, by asking “Are you a Eucharistic minister?” He seemed a little surprised, but said Yes, so I said I would love to be able to receive Communion. The Lord provides.

Finally, I saw the neurologist and we had a good conversation. He did the same tests—touch your nose, follow my pen, squeeze my hand, although pull my finger was new (and smelly); Ba dum bump! I’ll be here all week, tip your waiter—and then suggested that I pinched a nerve. There’s one nerve cluster that controls sensation in the area of the skull that went numb and we agreed I must have slept on it funny. Then he suggested I do a sleep apnea study and I mentioned how the FitBit measures my sleep pattern and started to explain it: “I wear the wristband on my non-dominant hand and put the device inside…”

He interrupted me and said that must be it! The nerve cluster begins in the forehead right about where I sleep with my head on my right wrist at night. I must have slept on the FitBit where it pressed on the nerve ending all night, causing it to go dead.

No stroke. No aneurysm. No Bell’s palsy. No heart attack. No, I just spent about 24 hours in the hospital because I slept on my new gadget the wrong way.

Good grief.

So here I am, home again. At least I didn’t have to endure the MRI after all and now I’ve had a full workup of my heart’s health. And while I didn’t wear the FitBit last night, I think there’s a way to wear it at night without turning me into a numbskull. And even if I don’t wear it at night, it’s still useful for everything else it does.

But if you’re a FitBit Ultra owner who sleeps on his belly, beware of the possible consequences. Here’s hoping the feeling returns to my scalp because at this point it’s coming back, although slowly.

Better safe than sorry, though, right?

Photo by pixieclipx -

  • I’m glad you’re okay, but what a frightening experience!  I have had an MRI twice—once of my head and once of my lower back, both of which involved me being slid in all the way to my waist.  To say it is like being in a coffin is putting it mildly and your nose is indeed almost touching the top.  I had to close my eyes and do deep yoga breathing to get through it.  And the racket from the machine—despite the music coming through the headphones—is like being on a construction site!

  • One way I made beer money through college was to volunteer for fMRI (functional MRI) tests.  Most of these were cognitive tests, done in those little tubes.  Mind you, these were not the modern things—that was for medical schools with budgets.  These were the old skinny hand-me-downs.  For two hours, easy. 

    They paid well, but man, that was not fun.

  • I had a similar experience. I slept the wrong way with my Charge HR and couldn’t move my hand at all upon waking up. MRI showed no signs of stroke, tumors etc. I stopped wearing at night. After 3 weeks and lots of B12 I can use my hand again but the back of my hand is still numb.

  • I’m starting to think I’m having issues from wearing my Fitbit charge2, I’m off to the doctor on Wednesday , I’ll let you know.

  • that is crazy, I have been having signs of edema. they said to reduce my sodium and exercise regulary to avoid swelling in my arms and my legs. but when I had my vacation of a week, and forgot to wear my FitBit Charge 2, all my symptoms went away! Plus the doctor ran blood tests and everything came back normal so they didn’t know what to tell me. but once I took off my FitBit I am magically healed.

    • I just went through 6 weeks of hell from wearing a Charge 2. It started with facial paralysis and a few day later vision loss in one eye. The symptoms kept coming. Tremors, having to walk with a cane. 2 hospital stays and 5 MRIs. They thought I had MS. My husband even renovated a bathroom in our house to make it handicap accessible.
      I took off my fitbit and the symptoms stated to get less and less. All of my scans were clear except for a few old inactive leasions ( I also have RA) . Blood work and ultrasound of my neck all clear. It was from an over load of EMF. I am now recovering from EMF toxicity and radiation poisoning.

  • after wearing mine for a few years my wrist started aching, I stopped wearing my fit pit a week ago and the aching is gone, it was not cause from wearing it too tight either

  • I’ve been wearing a Fitbit Alta for almost two ago on my right arm. My thumb started hurting down to my wrist. I put the Fitbit on my left wrist about a 4 months ago. My shoulder to my forearm started to hurt a little bit and I thought it was just sore. I used different kinds of topical creams to try to ease the pain. Now the pain is from my left shoulder down to my fingers. I did a search this morning to see if anyone else had any type of pain from their Fitbit. It all makes sense to me now that I’m be read everyone’s comments. I will be going to my doctor just to be safe. Thank you all for your comments. They really helped me understand what I am going through. Blessings to you all 😇

  • I found this on doing a search today to see if anyone else had been having a reaction to their Fitbit Charge.

    For the last four months I’ve been having this intense itching, then blisters coming up, and then the skin peeling off from the fingers and area between the fingers of my left hand.

    The left hand was bothering me really badly with intense itching today so I took the Fitbit off my left hand and placed it on my right hand, and immediately the skin between the fingers on my right hand started this intense tingling that stopped when I took the Fitbit back off. I wondered then if it was possible that it was causing the problem with the left hand.

    I have had a Fitbit for three years now, and this is the first time I’ve had a problem with it. I wonder if it could be that the metal band I bought a few months ago to replace the one that broke might be intensifying the effects of the Fitbit.

  • Oh my gosh…I just googled Fitbit pain and this came up. I got a Fitbit Alta the beginning of May. Its October 4th. I started having left arm and lect elbow pain. I wear it on my left arm. Im a Stage IV Colon Cancer survivor, and I was using it to help me exercise and get better. Ive had pain for months. My family doctor even had me go to the hospital to have a series of elbow and arm xrays to see if maybe I hit it on something and broke it, because I have weaker bones now from the lifetimes supply of radiation. All clear, so he thought maybe tennis elbow. Months and months of pain. Some mornings cant even move it and cry from pain. When my almost brand new charger died my arm improved while I waited for the new charger to come. Im gonna go without the Fitbit for a week and see if the pain and numbness goes away!

  • I started wearing Fitbit Versa in June it has been 4 months. I’ve been wearing it on my left hand.
    I started feeling occasional mild pain in my left shoulder joint 2 months ago and did not pay much attention to it. Just 2 days ago, the shoulder joint pain became so serious that I could not lift my arm and felt very weak and painful. Just googled on the pain and came across this forum. I will stop wearing the Fitbit immediately and hopefully see improvement.
    The biggest concern is whether this is causing a serious health issue and what is the tracker actually doing to my body.
    I hope everyone here recover from the impact as soon as possible.

  • I wear a fitbit altra on my left arm and have been experiencing pain in my left shoulder blade and numbness in my arm. Sometimes chest pain. Went to the doctor had an ekg and echo all were negative. Will not wear fitbit and see if isuues go away.

  • Glad to see its not just me with these problems. I have a fitbit charge 2 and for about the last month have been woken up during the night with dead fingers/ hand. I did not suspect the Fitbit until i googled fitbit and dead hand and found all of the above comments. I will leave it off and see if this is causing my problems. The time scale of my problem coincides with starting back using it. When i first got the unit, i felt like it was giving me small shocks and on starting back using it, i had to install an update which i guessed was to stop the shocks. I have not felt the shocks since but i could wake up about 4 times a night with a dead partial hand and some fingers. Hopefully, leaving it off will stop my problems.

  • I am left handed so have worn my fitbit on my right wrist. I have had pain shooting from my right wrist through my arm and down into my right shoulder blade for quite a while now and sometimes my fingers feel tingly. I’m big on massage so have tried that and Biofreeze but it still persists just on the right side. I never thought about it possibly being from the fitbit until I left it off a few days due to wrist pain and shortly after putting it on again I felt the tingling in my fingers come back so I googled and found this feed. I’m not going to wear it anymore. I hate it because I can earn points through my work for getting steps that translate into money but it’s not worth the damage to my body.