Diagnosing heart disease is expensive and can be risky, but there may be a low-tech test as close as your bathroom mirror. Although this 10-second free self-exam has been known for almost 40 years, it has been largely forgotten or ignored in favor of far pricier procedures.
The conventional method for detecting clogged arteries is cardiac catheterization. This entails inserting a tube into an artery that feeds the heart. Dye is squirted into the catheter so that the doctor can take an X-ray of the arteries. It can cost thousands of dollars and sometimes there are complications.
A less invasive test is the coronary calcium scan. It involves using CT (computed tomography) scans to detect calcium deposits in the walls of arteries. The more calcium, the greater the likelihood of plaque. Such tests can cost hundreds of dollars and may not be covered by insurance. There is also the additional radiation exposure to consider. Such a scan requires many times more radiation than a standard chest X-ray.
Perhaps the easiest, fastest and most affordable way to start your cardiac evaluation is by looking in the mirror. Is there a diagonal crease across your earlobe?
We first stumbled across this improbable “test” when it was published in The New England Journal of Medicine (March 14, 1974). The investigators found that nearly half of the patients they examined with coronary artery disease had diagonal earlobe creases.
Initially, many doctors found this report amusing but not compelling. Since that time, however, there have been dozens of articles in the medical literature about the relationship between a diagonal ear lobe crease and coronary artery disease.
In one study, British researchers recorded the presence or absence of earlobe creases in 300 autopsies and determined that 73 percent of those with earlobe creases died of cardiovascular causes (British Heart Journal, April, 1989). This was in comparison to 45 percent of those with uncreased earlobes.
More recently, cardiologists compared the results of CT angiography and the presence or absence of an earlobe crease (American Journal of Cardiology, May 1, 2012). The investigators found that a diagonal earlobe crease was a significant predictor of the presence, extent and severity of coronary artery disease.
Now, Danish researchers have reported at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association that earlobe creases, along with a receding hairline, balding crown and fatty deposits around the eyes, are associated with heart attack risk.
Although scientists still do not have an explanation for the earlobe crease connection, it has held up for decades. To see what it looks like, visit www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.
A reader has complained that writing about this earlobe crease only increases anxiety, since there is nothing that can be done about it. We disagree. Years ago, we heard from a reader in Nashville, TN:

“I was reading The People’s Pharmacy and I came to the part about heart attacks and earlobe creases. I nearly fell out of bed laughing. I’d read most of the book and then discovered that Graedon had been blowin’ smoke all along. I rolled over and went to sleep.
“The next morning I got up late and looked in the mirror to shave. There was a diagonal crease across my left earlobe. Bull**** I thought. Sure, I’d had occasional chest pain and got winded easily, but no big deal.
“Still, a strange magnetic force propelled me to the Nashville VA Hospital. They put me on a treadmill, noting I am 45 pounds overweight. (I do like my beer, and don’t exert myself unduly.) I crapped out in less than two minutes. Then they took pictures with dye and discovered I had two heart arteries completely blocked and two more mostly clogged.
“I am recovering from heart surgery. I’ve lost 50 pounds and I walk two miles a day. Thanks to your wild-assed theory, my beautiful wife and 6-year-old son will have to put up with me for many more years. I say wild-assed because a close friend heard my story and saw he had creases in both ears. He went in for testing and came through with flying colors and a clean bill of health.”

What should you do if you spot a crease? First, ask your doctor about next steps. This could be an early warning sign of trouble. If it serves as a motivator to improve diet and exercise patterns and quit smoking, then this simple test could pay huge dividends. Your physician may suggest a supervised aspirin regimen or some other drug treatment program.
You can learn more about heart-healthy foods and how to prepare them in Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy. It contains delicious recipes from the country’s leading nutrition experts.

Join Over 55,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. Lou G
    Reply

    As I commented back on 11/16/12, above, I’m not at all concerned about creases in my years. I totally agree with Renee L. Why worry about something that might not even affect you?

  2. Renee L.
    Reply

    Hi there. First, I am 41 and for a few years I’ve noticed my right earlobe is “creased” from my piercing down to the tip with an ever so slight wrinkle from piercing to tragus. My left ear has a very slight wrinkle from piercing to tragus. Since reading about it online maybe 6 months ago, I have fretted. Like many who discover this, it has caused real stress.
    You know one of the causes of heart attacks is stress… so I say we all stop stressing about this. I have health care but I don’t make a habit of going to the doctor. I think the best course of action is to take care of ourselves. If we have any signs of heart trouble, get to the doc. But we can’t fret over earlobe creases. And the People’s Pharmacy can’t answer the questions people have been asking because they don’t have the answers. If earlobe creases were a definite sign of heart disease, those of us with them would need no further testing. A correlation has been drawn, but no one has all the answers. So let’s all relax, take care of ourselves, get to the doc when there are real concerns, and accept that eventually, something gets us all in the end. Forget the creases and enjoy the ride :)

  3. mark
    Reply

    no I dont think piercings cause earlobe creases

  4. a.m.
    Reply

    Would the People’s Pharmacy team please address these comments? Especially the notion regarding pierced ears. I have the creases and live a very healthy lifestyle. I do not have insurance and am not going to go get testing but I would like your opinion about pierced earrings causing the crease. Thanks.

  5. Ladyliza
    Reply

    Yes but which tests did they run? After a little research I find that hmos don’t do a lot of extensive testing if they can avoid it. Have you seen a cardiologist lately?

  6. Carrie
    Reply

    try not to get too paranoid. I also have had chest pain for years as well with no cardiac problems even with high cholesterol and smoker. I am in pretty good shape however and the cholesterol is hereditary with high hdl and triglycerides normal even at 243 for a count.
    There are several other factors that cause chest pain. The chest wall is surrounded by several muscles that tighten and contract. stress is a big factor in chest pain. Indigestion can cause it too. Or perhaps potassium levels are off. Have you had a blood test.
    Best thing is too breath relax and look for an alternative. For me it’s stress. my muscles are very tight all the time. I have to mentally relax them because the just don’t on their own. That and my body uses a lot of potassium so I take a small dose weekly.
    Hang in there

  7. PK
    Reply

    I have had chest pain for years and also had many test which were negative for heart disease. I just checked and have creases in both ears, now I am paranoid. I also have pierced ears and am a side sleeper. what do I do? My doctors ignore my heart pain symptoms because my tests were normal.

  8. JOHN R.
    Reply

    What is the diagnosis if there is a crease on one ear only?

  9. Molly T.
    Reply

    I have creases on both ears and can this be from pierced ears? It runs on that line.
    Thanks,
    Molly

  10. susan
    Reply

    I think the crease comes from being fat, which would also be an indicator. Wonder how many thinner people have earlobe creases??? I’ve noted my husband’s creases become deeper, more predominant as he has gained weight.

  11. Lou G
    Reply

    I find this strange as, with many folks commenting here, after reading the article, I looked at my ears, and both have creases. I’ve had a cardiac catheterization several years ago and there were no problems found. Over the years, I’ve had many EKG’s, and this year alone due to back problems, surgery, etc., I’ve had at least six, and I have no problems. However, I will be more aware of any chest pain. I just hope I don’t fall into a fear that I have heart problems every time my chest hurts.

  12. AD
    Reply

    Has anyone ever thought that the crease on the earlobe is from sleeping on the side & your ear lobe gets tucked over the ear? I also read about this several years ago & didn’t have the problem, but now that I am older (71) I have it & I think it is caused by sleeping with my earlobe folded over, because sometimes I can feel it tucked under while I am laying down.

  13. a.s.
    Reply

    There’s a term for this type of thing: genetic marker. I have it in both ears and I’ve had one heart attack. didn’t dawn on me (since 2 different doctors dismissed them!) that I should have gotten the wake-up call back in the late 70s when my late, sainted mother told me about it.

  14. vg
    Reply

    Re the earlobe crease being a possible sign of heart problems. Forty years ago, nursing in Rhodesian bush hospitals, we immediately refered all patients with this sign to our Doctor. He believed (like most Drs) it was an excellent indicator and many of them went up to teaching hospitals and lifesaving proceedures.This sign went out of fashion, but now it is back and I can vouch for it’s veracity in so many cases in our fancy-EKG-machine poor bush hospitals.
    Like knowing typhoid patients exhibited an early mousy smell in urine etc…it was a ‘look, see, smell and listen closely to the patient’ era. Many of the fundamentals used then are coming back in today’s medicine.
    Your column is a lodestone of information.
    Thankyou
    v

  15. LG
    Reply

    I too have creases in both ears. But I note that they are intersected by my pieced earring hole & that if I put lotion on them, they almost disappear. I previously had a heart attack but there was NO plaque when they did an angiogram and it was determined that the heart attack was merely caused by stress.

  16. GBS
    Reply

    If the arteries become clear will the creases go away? Or do they remain even though the arteries are not clogged any longer?

  17. BJepson
    Reply

    I disagree about the earlobe creases. I’ve had them all my life (and have no heart ailments). From personal observation, I believe there are two different earlobe configurations — attached to and detached from the cheek(mine are detached). The latter seem to be the more prone to creases.

  18. MV
    Reply

    I definitely have heart trouble. I had by-pass surgery (5 bypasses) fifteen years ago after two heart attacks. Two years ago, I had an ICD put in. My left ear lobe has the diagonal crease but not the right ear lobe. I also have type II diabetes and low thyroid. Age: 73. I exercise, eat a Mediterranean diet, and take a ton of pills and supplements. My father and brother both had type II diabetes and died of strokes. My father died at age 79 and my brother at age 80.
    Neither of them exercised much after retirement but their diets were reasonably good. My mother died of heart failure at age 90 and did not have diabetes. She was active throughout her life and did her own housework up until a year before her death. She loved vegetables. My major issue is that I cannot tolerate statins and have cholesterol levels over 200. As a result, I am focusing on exercising, having a good social life and positive attitude, and sticking to the Mediterranean diet.
    Since going off of insulin and starting Byetta, I have lost 50 pounds and plan to continue to lose. My goal is to overcome my genetic inheritance from my father’s side and to emulate my mother. I appreciate the information all of us get from the People’s Pharmacy.

  19. DH
    Reply

    Thank goodness, I read the last letter as I have creases, but I also feel that has come from years of pierced ears as the crease runs right through the area… do you feel earrings can cause this?

  20. COS
    Reply

    Interesting to say the least but what are the statisitcs of CAD for those who do not have a crease?
    Thanks!

  21. Sue
    Reply

    Maybe it would be helpful to know if the crease in the LEFT ear alone is more indicative of such conditions versus both ear.

  22. Carl D.
    Reply

    I have the crease in both ears – very prominent! Yet I do not have heart disease. I have had stress tests and also had the Dr look inside the blood vessels. No problem. So I could imagine if I had not had these tests your article would really have caused a lot of stress. I do not doubt the article but it is clearly possible to have these creases predominately in both ears and not have heart disease.

  23. SH
    Reply

    I remember when this info came out years ago. It was put in the category that honey heals wounds, cinnamon helped diabetes, keys down somebody’s back could stop nosebleed and blah, blah.
    I think that many, many old wives tales will be proven more and more. I do know that since I could hold a telephone receiver, it has mashed my left lobe…. hmmmmm
    Love, love lllllove your column and info. I inherited mama’s copies of your books since the 1980’s….
    Very glad you reversed your stand on generic meds, Rx and otc.

What Do You Think?

Share your thoughts with others, but be mindful of protecting your own and others' privacy. Not all comments will be posted. Advice from web visitors is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. In posting a comment, you agree to our commenting policy and website terms and conditions.