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Shopping trolleys to help save people from suffering strokes

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 16/5/2021 Jack Hardy
Stroke sensors - Liverpool John Moores University /PA © Liverpool John Moores University /PA Stroke sensors - Liverpool John Moores University /PA

Shopping trolleys will be used to help save people from suffering a stroke by identifying irregular heartbeats, as part of a new medical trial.

Researchers are recruiting up to 2,000 people to use trolleys which have sensors attached to their handle so they can be monitored while shopping at high street shops.

It is hoped the sensors can detect irregular heartbeats which lead to a condition known as atrial fibrillation. It causes blood clots to form in the heart and increases the risk of stroke.

Around 1.2 million people are estimated to have atrial fibrillation in the UK and the problem can be spotted with a simple pulse check.

This relies, however, on patients noticing something unusual about their heartbeat and visiting their GP for an assessment.

The scientists from Liverpool John Moores University hope that observing so many participants will allow them to single out individuals who do not realise they have the condition.

Ian Jones, a professor of cardiovascular nursing at the university who is leading the study, said: "Around 30,000 people suffer a stroke each year as a consequence of a treatable, but often undiagnosed, irregular heartbeat.

"Using proven sensor technology, we are intending to check peoples heartbeat while they shop, and in doing so, we estimate that we will save between 20 and 40 people suffering a stroke in the future."

As part of the study, the recruits will have to place their hands on the trolley handle with embedded sensors for at least 20 to 30 seconds for their heartbeat to be detected.  The data gathered from the sensors will then be analysed by a team of experts.

The participants who are identified as having irregular heartbeats will be referred to a consultant cardiologist who specialises in atrial fibrillation.

The patients will then be assessed and given medication if they are at risk of stroke, or otherwise get appropriate lifestyle advice.

A previous study in 2018 suggested that people with atrial fibrillation - or a heart "flutter" - should be given blood-thinning drugs to prevent fatal strokes.

The research found that even patients whose atrial fibrillation appears improved continue to have a significantly increased risk of stroke, but British doctors are too quick to take people off anticoagulants once symptoms have gone away.

Anticoagulants, such as warfarin, can reduce the extra risk of stroke by around two-thirds.

Professor Jones said of the new study: "This is a feasibility study so there are some things we will learn along the way. "We are embedding sensors in the handles of supermarket trolleys to detect an irregular heart beat.

"This particular abnormality is linked to stroke so we are hoping to identify people early and stop them developing a stroke. As a concept, this has the potential to save thousands of lives."

The trials are taking place at Sainsbury's and Lloyds Pharmacy stores in Rice Lane, Liverpool and Upton Bypass, Wirral, in May.

The team will then move to stores in East Prescott Rd and James Rd in Liverpool in June and July to continue with the research.

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