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Could supermarket trolleys be lifesavers?

Posted on the 28th June 2023

Shopping Trolley sensors AF

Modified shopping trolleys have been used to spot a hidden heart rhythm condition linked to an increased risk of stroke.

Researchers in Liverpool fitted special sensors that scan customers’ grip pulses to the trolleys and assessed the data from more than 2,000 shoppers over a period of two months.

During this time, 39 people were newly identified as having atrial fibrillation (AF) and were referred to a heart specialist for further advice.

Shoppers were asked to hold the handle for a minute.

If an irregular heartbeat was detected, the in-store pharmacist manually checked their pulse and an electrocardiogram (ECG) heart trace was taken that was then reviewed by a cardiologist.

Of the 220 who presented with an irregular heartbeat:

  • 115 showed no evidence of AF
  • 59 were found to have AF, 39 undiagnosed
  • 46 had readings that were unclear

If no irregular heartbeat was detected, a researcher manually checked their pulse - and of these, 10 were found to have AF.

The trial findings were presented recently at a European Society of Cardiology conference, in Edinburgh.

Lead researcher Prof Ian Jones, from Liverpool John Moores University, said: "This study shows the potential of taking health checks to the masses without disrupting daily routines.

"Nearly two-thirds of the shoppers we approached were happy to use a trolley and the vast majority of those who declined were in a rush rather than wary of being monitored.

"This shows that the concept is acceptable to most people and worth testing in a larger study."

Understanding atrial fibrillation (AF)

  • AF is when the heart beats irregularly or chaotically so the heart muscle cannot relax properly between contractions
  • People with AF might notice an irregular and fast pulse or heart palpitations
  • Some have no symptoms though and it is only picked up during a check-up
  • AF can increase the risk of blood clots in the heart that may lead to stroke
  • AF is thought to affect more than 40 million globally.

Related: Deadly heart condition reversed for first time

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