Aortic aneurysms are a major killer globally. The aorta is an enormous blood vessel that carries blood away from your heart, and when it develops an abnormal bulge this is known as an aortic aneurysm (Einstein had one wrapped with literal cellophane). They can cause discomfort, but most people aren’t aware that they have an aortic aneurysm until it’s picked up in scans. If the aneurysm ruptures, it causes mass internal bleeding, which is usually fatal, so detecting these vessel abnormalities is a key step in the prevention of death.
Now, a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology has found that a simple self-conducted test involving the thumb and palm of one hand could be used to identify people for whom it’s worth checking for a hidden aortic aneurysm. According to the report, that aortic aneurysm is the 13th most common cause of death in America, killing around 10,000 people annually, so early detection through a simple test such as this could have huge ramifications for the survival rates among those affected.
The test is easy: hold your hand up and keep your palm flat, as if you’re indicating for someone to stop. Then, stretch your thumb as far as you can across your palm (without hurting yourself). The test is checking for connective tissue disease, which makes the likelihood of an aortic aneurysm more likely. If your thumb can stretch past the edge of your hand, this could be indicative of one such disease and the researchers say may be a sign of a hidden aortic aneurysm.
If your thumb has extended beyond your hand, it’s important to note that not everybody who can do this is found to have an aortic aneurysm. Furthermore, aortic aneurysms can endure for long periods of time without rupturing. Their detection however is vital as the condition can be managed with lifestyle changes and sometimes surgery. They also call for consistent monitoring so that patients and their physicians can keep ahead of the disease before it results in a potentially fatal rupture.
“The biggest problem in aneurysm disease is recognizing affected individuals within the general population before the aneurysm ruptures,” said senior author Dr John A. Elefteriades, emeritus director of the Aortic Institute at Yale New Haven Hospital. “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.”
While the thumb test is not on its own a sufficient tool for confirmation of diagnosis, Dr Elefteriades and colleagues believe the test is worthy of inclusion in standard physical examinations as it could prove lifesaving, especially for those with a family history of aortic aneurysm.
“Spreading knowledge of this test may well identify silent aneurysm carriers and save lives,” Dr Elefteriades said.