Weak handshake ‘could be a sign of a failing heart’

Scientists have linked grip strength to changes in the heart's structure and function. Picture: Craig Stephen
Scientists have linked grip strength to changes in the heart's structure and function. Picture: Craig Stephen
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A weak handshake could be a sign of a failing heart according to new research funded by the British Heart Foundation.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London have discovered that grip strength can be associated with changes in the heart’s structure and function, and could be used as a broad measure of someone’s heart health.

By asking people to grip a device called a dynamometer for 3 seconds, the scientists were able to determine someone’s grip strength and compare this to detailed scans of their heart.

Using data from nearly 5,000 people enrolled in the UK Biobank study, also part-funded by the BHF, the team found that people with low grip strength had weaker hearts that were less able to pump blood around the body.

Low hand grip strength was also associated with having enlarged, damaged hearts.

Participants in the study underwent cutting-edge heart scans that allowed the researchers to precisely work out the volume of blood that was pumped by their heart with every heartbeat. They found that better hand grip strength was linked to higher volumes and proportions of blood being pumped by the heart and healthier heart muscle – which is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.

The results of the research were published in the medical journal PLOS ONE yesterday.

Coronary heart disease kills 66,000 people in the UK alone every year – most of these deaths are due to heart attacks. Strokes cause around 38,000 deaths in the UK each year. Spotting people who are at risk of these fatal events could allow them to get treatment and, ultimately, save lives.

Prof Steffen Petersen, who led the research from Queen Mary University of London, said:“Our study shows that better hand grip strength is associated with having a healthier heart structure and function. Hand grip strength is an inexpensive, reproducible and easy to implement measure, and could become an easy way of identifying people at high risk of heart disease and preventing major life-changing events, such as heart attacks.”

Julie Ward, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the BHF said:“Measuring grip strength, alongside knowing family history and other risk factors such as high blood pressure, could be a cheap and easy way of finding those most at risk of heart attacks.”