By Robert Preidt
"Screening pulse is the method of choice for checking for irregular heartbeat for people over age 65 who have never had a stroke. Our study shows it may be a safe, effective, noninvasive and easy way to identify people who might need more thorough monitoring to prevent a second stroke," said study author Dr. Bernd Kallmunzer, of Erlangen University in Germany.
The study included more than 250 people who survived an ischemic stroke (blocked blood flow to the brain). Either the patients or their relatives were taught how to monitor the pulse to detect an irregular heartbeat.
Pulse checks taken by patients and relatives were nearly as accurate as those taken by health care workers, according to the study published online July 23 in the journal Neurology.
The pulse readings taken by the participants and health care professionals were compared to readings of electrical activity in the heart, which showed that 57 of the patients had irregular heartbeats.
Pulse measurements taken by relatives had a sensitivity of 77 percent and a specificity of 93 percent, compared with about 97 percent and 94 percent, respectively, for health care workers.
Sensitivity is the percentage of positive findings that are correctly identified. Specificity is the percentage of negative findings that are correctly identified.
Among patients who did their own pulse checks, 89 percent provided reliable results, with a sensitivity of 54 percent and specificity of 96 percent. False positives occurred in six patients and false negatives in 17 patients.
"The low rate of false positives in this study shows that health care professionals, caregivers and patients can be guided to use this simple tool as a first step in helping to prevent a second stroke," Kallmunzer said in a journal news release.