A Simple Test that can Catch an Aortic Aneurysm

Source: Unsplash

Catching diseases early on is always a benefit as they can be dealt with before they get worse. Often this happens unexpectedly – you go in to get a routine medical check-up and discover something malicious lurking. Recently, the American Journal of Cardiology has published a study that illustrates this phenomenon. A simple test using one’s thumb might be the unassuming key that uncovers a serious heart condition: an ascending aortic aneurysm.

The aorta is the largest artery in the body, transporting freshly oxygenated blood from the heart towards the awaiting cells. The ascending aorta passes the heart at the base of the left ventricle. If the aorta’s diameter expands, it becomes an aneurysm. Rupture of this aneurysm is a serious medical emergency, causing chest pain, hemiplegia, or internal bleeding leading to death.

An Easy test to catch an Aortic Aneurysm

According to new research published in the American Journal of Cardiology, a simple test can help detect aortic aneurysm early so that it can be treated before it ruptures. The test involves extending one arm in front of your body, palm up flat as if stopping someone. Then, you stretch your thumb towards the pinkie finger to see if the thumb can reach beyond it. A positive outcome may indicate that the patient has connective tissue disease, which also affects the aorta.

Thumb test to detect Ascending Aortic Aneurysm. (Source: YaleNews)

The researchers performed this test on 305 people who were about to have cardiac surgery with intraoperative transesophageal echocardiography (TEE). They found that while the test had low accuracy in accurately determining the proportion of patients who had aortic aneurysm, it was highly accurate in confirming the proportion of patients who did not have the disease. This means that a patient who could not stretch their thumb past their pinkie had negligible chances of aortic aneurysm.

However, a positive outcome may indicate a chance that the patient is suffering from the disease and the researchers recommend that doctors should take this as a serious sign to order more tests and confirm the diagnosis, especially if the patient has a family history of aortic aneurysm.

According to author Dr. John A. Elefteriades, emeritus director of the Aortic Institute at Yale New Haven Hospital, “The biggest problem in aneurysm disease is recognizing affected individuals within the general population before the aneurysm ruptures”.

 “Our study showed that the majority of aneurysm patients do not manifest a positive thumb-palm sign, but patients who do have a positive test have a high likelihood of harboring an aneurysm.”

“Spreading knowledge of this test may well identify silent aneurysm carriers and save lives,” he said.


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