Do You Have an Aortic Aneurysm?
Take the Thumb-Palm Test to See
You can do a straightforward thumb-palm test to see if you have a hidden, potentially fatal medical condition.
The problem is with your aorta. It is both the main and the largest artery in the human body. It comes out of the heart’s left ventricle, and it’s about the size of the typical drain under your bathroom sink.
Your aorta is under constant stress. Every day, all day long, it deals with the ejection of blood flow from your heart. In some people, that constant stress can cause the aorta to slowly grow bigger. Technically, once it reaches 1.5 times its normal size, it’s called an aneurysm.
An aortic aneurysm can tear open with enough stress, and that’s called an aortic dissection, which can turn deadly quickly. Half of all people who experience a ruptured aneurysm die before reaching a hospital, and of those who make it, the odds of surviving the emergency surgery is only 50-50. An estimated 10,000 people die from aortic aneurysms in the United States every year.
An aneurysm (that enlarging of the aorta) is typically caused by one of two things. About half of patients are born with abnormal valves. The problem is usually detected using ultrasound or during other routine medical tests because unless it’s advanced, there are few symptoms.
However, the other half are caused by a connective tissue disorder. Researchers have discovered a simple test you can perform to see if you might have that disorder.
1. Start by holding up your hand, palm facing out, as if you’re motioning for someone to stop.
2. Then, take your thumb and slide it across the palm of your hand, moving it as far over as possible towards your little finger.
3. If your thumb moves BEYOND the edge of the palm of your hand, you may have a problem.
The test is checking for connective tissue disease. If your thumb can stretch beyond the edge of your hand, it is an indicator your joints may be lax, you may have connective tissue disease, and that can be a sign of a hidden aortic aneurysm.
Researchers gave 305 patients undergoing cardiac surgery “for a variety of disorders” this test. They found that the majority of aneurysm patients did NOT have a positive thumb-palm sign. However, patients that DID have the sign had a high likelihood of harboring an aneurysm.
That high likelihood prompted researchers to suggest that the thumb-palm test should be used during all standard physical exams, especially for people who have a family history of aortic aneurysm.
Some important warnings go along with performing this test.
First, if you can move your thumb that far, it doesn’t automatically mean you have a problem. It just indicates you’re at greater risk, and you should talk to a doctor about it. Don’t panic; it can take decades for an aneurysm to progress, so there should be plenty of time to treat it.
Second, if you can’t reach that far with your thumb, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Only half of the aortic aneurysms are the result of connective tissue disease. You could still be at risk, especially if you’re overweight, smoke, or were born with abnormal valves. If you're concerned, you should talk to your doctor.
You can read the study, Accuracy of the “Thumb-Palm Test” for Detection of Ascending Aortic Aneurysm, published in the July 1st, 2021 issue of The American Journal of cardiology.
The link is here: https://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(21)00311-8/fulltext
Fortunately, if the condition is caught early enough, there are several medical treatments available. Share this test with friends, family and coworkers. Hopefully, it will help identify more people who may be hiding aneurysms so they can be diagnosed, monitored and treated.
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