health

Simple thumb tests can reveal if you’re at risk of deadly heart problem


THIS simple thumb test can reveal if you’re at risk of a deadly heart problem.

It helps indicate if someone has a hidden aortic aneurysm – a bulge in the wall of a vessel connected to the heart and down to the stomach.

How to do the test

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How to do the test

Although they do not normally pose a serious threat to health, the swelling can become life-threatening if not detected early.

Aortic aneurysms usually show no symptoms and are picked up through screening.

By that time, it may be too late and the bulge has gotten so large it is ready to burst, causing internal bleeding and possibly death.

About eight in 10 people with a rupture will die before they reach hospital or not survive surgery.

But doctors at Yale University School of Medicine, Connecticut, say people can check their own risk with a reliable test.

To do the “thumb palm test”, hold up one hand and keep the palm flat.

Stretch the thumb as far as possible across the palm.

If it crosses beyond  the far edge of the flat palm, you may be harboring a hidden aneurysm.

Being able to move the thumb in that way is an indirect indication that a person’s joints are lax.

These are possible signs of connective tissue disease throughout the body, including the aorta – the largest artery of the body which runs from the heart and into the stomach.

Researchers tested the method on 305 people and published their findings in the American Journal of Cardiology.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy

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An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummyCredit: Alamy
Researchers used this image to show what a positive thumb palm test looks like

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Researchers used this image to show what a positive thumb palm test looks likeCredit: Yale University School of Medicine

“Our study showed that the majority of aneurysm patients do not manifest a positive thumb-palm sign”,  senior author  Dr John A Elefteriades said.

“But patients who do have a positive test have a high likelihood of harboring an aneurysm,” Dr Elefteriades said.

People who can flex their thumb across the edge of their palm are not necessarily tinkering on the edge of a burst aneurysm.

The researchers said aneurysms often take decades to progress to the point of rupture and a positive test is not cause for panic.

However, the test may be useful when looking at people with existing risk factors, like a family history or high blood pressure.

Aortic aneurysm: What is it and who is at risk?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a swelling of the main blood vessel that leads away from the heart.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms do not normally pose a serious threat to health, but rare large aneurysms can be very serious.

If a large aneurysm ruptures it can cause huge internal bleeding and is usually fatal.

In most cases there are no symptoms, however in rare cases the aneurysm can cause stomach pains or persistent back ache.

If an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures it will cause a sudden and severe pain in the abdomen.

Other symptoms associated with a rupture are dizziness, sweaty or clammy skin, a rapid heartbeat, feeling faint and loss of consciousness.

If you suspect that you or someone else has a ruptured aneurysm, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Risk factors:

All men aged 66 or over are at risk of an aortic aneurysm.

Women aged 70 or over who have one or more of the following risk factors are also at higher odds:

  • high blood pressure
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • high blood cholesterol
  • a family history of AAA
  • cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease or a history of stroke
  • history of smoking

You can reduce your risk by:

  • stopping smoking
  • eating healthily
  • exercising regularly
  • cutting down on alcohol

Dr Elefteriades said: “The biggest problem in aneurysm disease is recognising affected individuals within the general population before the aneurysm ruptures.”

To avoid sudden aortic aneurysms, some men and women in England are offered free screening on the NHS.

It’s routinely offered to all men aged 65 and over, and women aged 70 or over who have underlying risk factors.

But around one in five do not attend.

Roughly one in 92 men who are screened have the condition, according to NHS University Hospitals of Leicester. 

And around 3,000 men over 65 in England and Wales die of a ruptured aortic aneurysm each year – more than several cancers.

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