Thumb Test for Aortic Aneurysms: How to Check for Heart Problems

thumb test for aortic aneurysms

Getty Yale University Law School is shown on the day the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee was holding hearings for testimony from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on September 27, 2018 in New Haven, Connecticut.

A simple test can help determine whether you have hidden heart problems called aortic aneurysms, which can be deadly if not treated, a Yale study determined.

While experts affiliated with the Aortic Institute at Yale New Haven Hospital say the test is used frequently, it has not been evaluated in a clinical setting. Also, the results of the thumb test are not definitive. Many people who have aortic aneurysms may not indicate they do on the thumb test, and aortic aneurysms may not be indicated by the thumb test for some people.

The CDC said an aortic aneurysm causes a bulge, like a balloon, in the aorta, which is the main vessel carrying blood to the heart. Eventually, the aneurysm can cause a split in the artery wall or rupture, the CDC said.

Here’s how to conduct the thumb test at home:

Yale Experts Explain How to Test Yourself for Aortic Aneurysms With a Thumb Test

The thumb-palm test presented in Yale’s study is simple. Hold up one of your hands and keep your palm flat. Then, flex your thumb as far as possible across the palm of your hand. If your thumb goes beyond the edge of your palm, it’s possible that you have a hidden aneurysm, Yale experts said.

The reason the test may indicate the presence of aneurysms is because the thumb-test can show a person’s joints are lax and their long bones are “excessive,” “possible signs of connective tissue disease throughout the body, including the aorta,” Yale News said.

Yale News added that there is no need to panic if your thumb does stretch passed your palm. It usually takes decades for an aneurysm to rupture, researchers said.

The study involved giving the test to 305 patients who were going to have surgery for cardiac problems, including aneurysms, researchers told Yale News.

“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,” Dr. John A. Elefteriades told Yale News. He is the William W.L. Glenn Professor of Surgery at Yale and emeritus director of the Aortic Institute at Yale New Haven Hospital, Yale News said.

Yale Researchers Said the Thumb-Palm Test Should Become a Common Practice in Routine Physical Exams

Yale News reported aortic aneurysms kill about 10,000 people every year, and that aortic aneurysms are the 13th most common cause of death for Americans, impacting every age group.

Elefteriades and other researchers told Yale News they believe the thumb-palm test should be used by doctors in routine physical exams to catch an aortic aneurysm early. The test should especially be used for patients with a family history of aortic aneurysms, he said.

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

More than half of deaths from aortic aneurysms are among men, and smoking greatly increases the risk, according to the CDC.

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men 65 to 75 years old who have ever smoked should get an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms, even if they have no symptoms,” the CDC reported.

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