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.