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Smartphone video may detect neck arteries that lead to stroke – study

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Narrowed arteries in the neck – a major risk factor for stroke – could be flagged using smartphone video to detect blood motion. 

Research conducted in Taiwan could help experts to develop a non-invasive, early screening tool for detecting blockages in the carotid arteries that can lead to strokes.

“Between two per cent and five per cent of strokes each year occur in people with no symptoms, so better and earlier detection of stroke risk is needed,” says study author, Dr Hsien-Li Kao, interventional cardiologist at National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei.

“This was an exciting ‘eureka’ moment for us. Existing diagnostic methods – ultrasound, CT and MRI – require screening with specialised medical imaging equipment and personnel. Analysis of video recorded on a smartphone is non-invasive and easy to perform, so it may provide an opportunity to increase screening.”

The carotid arteries, found in the neck, can become blocked by a buildup of fatty deposits known as plaque. The condition called carotid artery stenosis happens when the carotid artery becomes blocked which can cause ischaemic stroke.

The carotid artery is found below the skin’s surface. When velocity and blood flow patterns change, those changes are reflected in the motion of the overlying skin, says Kao. However, those changes can’t be detected by the naked eye.

Researchers used motion magnification and pixel analysis to detect subtle changes in pulse characteristics on the skin’s surface captured in 30-second smartphone video recordings.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, took place between 2016 and 2019 and used an older-generation smartphone to make video clips of the necks of 202 adults from Taiwan. While recordings were being made, participants lay on their backs with their heads tilted back in a custom-made box that restricted movement.

The scientists found that 54 per cent of the participants had previously been diagnosed with a blockage of 50 per cent or more in the carotid artery.

The phone videos were 87 per cent accurate in predicting who had a blockage in the artery. Narrowing in the arteries was confirmed using a Doppler ultrasound test.

“More research is needed to determine whether video recorded on smartphones is a promising approach to help expedite and increase stroke screening,” says Kao.

“Carotid artery stenosis is silent until a stroke happens. With this method, clinicians may be able to record a video of the patient’s neck with a smartphone, upload the videos for analysis and receive a report within five minutes. The early detection of carotid artery stenosis may improve patient outcomes.”

In the UK there are approximately 1.3 million people living with stroke and about 85 per cent of strokes are ischaemic.

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