Supermarket trolleys reveal heart problems among shoppers

  • By Michelle Roberts
  • Digital Health Writer

source of images, Getty Images

Shopping trolleys fitted with a special sensor mounted on the handles can help detect a hidden heart rhythm condition that increases the risk of stroke, according to a trial.

Researchers in Liverpool have asked local shops to stock the modified trolleys, which scan customers’ pulses to detect any irregularities as they shop.

Over 2,000 buyers have used them.

During the two months of the study, 39 people were newly identified as suffering from atrial fibrillation (AF).

They were referred to a cardiologist for advice.

Lead researcher Professor Ian Jones, from Liverpool John Moores University, said: “This study shows the potential to bring health checks to the masses without disrupting daily routines.

“Almost two-thirds of shoppers we approached were happy to use a cart and the vast majority of those who refused were in a hurry rather than worried about being watched.

“It shows that the concept is acceptable to most people and deserves to be tested in a larger study.”

What is AF and is it dangerous?

  • AF occurs when the heart beats irregularly or chaotically so that the heart muscle cannot relax properly between contractions
  • People with AF may notice an irregular, rapid pulse or heart palpitations
  • Some, however, have no symptoms and are only detected during a check-up.
  • AF can increase the risk of blood clots in the heart that can lead to stroke

AF is thought to affect over a million people in the UK and 40 million worldwide.

Blood-thinning medications may be recommended to reduce the risk of possible complications, such as stroke.

The study received funding from Bristol Myers Squibb, which makes treatments for AF.

Ten shopping carts with a sensor in the handle – similar to those on weight machines – were placed in four supermarkets with pharmacies.

source of images, Liverpool John Moores University

Shoppers were asked to hold the handle for one minute.

If an irregular heartbeat was detected, the store pharmacist would manually check his pulse and have an electrocardiogram (ECG) heart tracing taken which was then reviewed by a cardiologist.

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

If no irregular heartbeats were detected, a researcher would manually check his pulse – and of those, 10 turned out to have AF.

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