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

A SIMPLE thumb test that you can do from the comfort of your own home can reveal if you're at risk of a deadly heart problem.

By just twiddling your thumbs – it could help you spot a hidden aortic aneurysm.


This is a bulge in the wall of a vessel connected to the heart and down to the stomach.

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 will sadly not survive surgery.

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

TAKE THE 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 harbouring 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.

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

“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.

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

FREE SCREENING

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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