Sensors on shop trolleys that detect irregular heartbeat ‘could save lives’

Research by UK scientists identified people who were unaware that they had the condition who went on to see a cardiologist.

Nilima Marshall
Friday 23 June 2023 14:55 BST
Sensors on supermarket trolleys could help spot people at risk of stroke (Liverpool John Moores University/PA)
Sensors on supermarket trolleys could help spot people at risk of stroke (Liverpool John Moores University/PA) (PA Media)

Having sensors on supermarket trolleys could save people’s lives by detecting a heart condition that puts them at increased risk of stroke, early findings suggest.

Scientists in the UK investigated whether installing electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors – designed to check the heart’s rhythm – on the handles of supermarket trolleys could identify shoppers with atrial fibrillation, which causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

The researchers said that over the course of two months, they identified 39 people who were unaware that they had the condition.

Ian Jones, professor of cardiovascular nursing at Liverpool John Moores University, who led the study, said: “That’s 39 people at greater risk of stroke who received a cardiologist appointment.”

He added: “This study shows the potential of taking health checks to the masses without disrupting daily routines.”

It is estimated around 1.5 million people in the UK have atrial fibrillation, which contributes to one in five strokes.

The condition is treatable, but there are at least another 270,000 people in the UK who remain undiagnosed and unaware, according to the British Heart Foundation.

The scientists recruited 2,155 adults who used the trolleys with embedded sensors while shopping at Sainsbury’s or Lloyds Pharmacy.

They were asked to place their hands on the trolley handle for around 60 seconds while the sensors gathered data on their heart rhythms.

The sensors showed a red light when it detected an irregular heartbeat and lit up green when it did not.

All those taking part in the study had an additional manual pulse check to confirm whether they had atrial fibrillation or not.

In the cases where the sensor went red, an in-store pharmacist performed another sensor reading using a standalone handle not attached to a trolley.

A cardiologist then reviewed the ECG recordings of people who had a red light or irregular pulse.

Findings showed that of the 2,155 adults who participated in the study, 220 had a red light or an irregular pulse.

Following cardiologist review, 115 people were found not to have the condition, while 46 recordings were unclear.

Atrial fibrillation was diagnosed in 59 people – 20 already knew they had the condition while 39 were previously undiagnosed.

Prof Jones said that while a simple pulse check can identify those with atrial fibrillation, it relies on people noticing something unusual about their heartbeat and attending a GP surgery for assessment.

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

Prof Ian Jones

There are wearable devices that can also spot irregular heartbeat but this would also require people to take responsibility and wear the device.

Professor Jones said: “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.”

He added: “Checking for atrial fibrillation while people do their regular shopping holds promise for preventing strokes and saving lives.

“A crucial aspect is providing immediate access to a health professional who can explain the findings and refer patients on for confirmatory tests and medication if needed.”

The findings were presented at ACNAP 2023 conference organised by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

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