Q: I’ve heard that an earlobe crease could be a sign of underlying heart disease. Is this true?
A: Yes. In the 1970s, Dr. Sanders T. Frank was the first to suggest earlobe creases were a marker of heart disease.
Since then, researchers around the globe have taken serious interest in ear lobe creases… though you probably didn’t notice! When you review all the scientific research on the topic together, a diagonal crease along the earlobe does seem to be a red flag, associated with a risk of coronary artery disease that’s about three times higher than average.
However, we still don’t know why. There’s some speculation that earlobe creases are a sign of aggressive aging. Other researchers have suggested that a crease is a superficial reflection of scar tissue and plaque build up in the small arteries of the heart.
While we’re on the topic, there are some other unusual symptoms you shouldn’t ignore. These include:
Fine, black lines (they look like splinters)that appear under the nail bed could be a sign of endocarditis — an infection of a heart valve. The “splinters” are actually tiny blood clots trapped underneath the nail.
If you’ve recently had heart surgery, have a prosthetic or mechanical valve, your risk of developing endocarditis is higher than the general population. That said, having splinter hemorrhages alone doesn’t confirm that you have endocarditis.
In a study of 135 cases of endocarditis, only 39 per cent of patients had splinter hemorrhages.
Splinter hemorrhages are also associated with other conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. They can also pop up if you injure the nail bed. If the lines don’t fade after a few weeks, or it’s a symptom that’s concerning you, it’s worth bringing it up with your doctor.
Even if your doctor suspects endocarditis, they’ll always check other tests including a blood culture (to measure bacteria levels in the blood) and an echocardiogram before concluding a check up of the health of your heart valves. Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing trouble breathing, fever, sweating or are feeling exhausted or run down.
Yellow bumps around the eyes
Yellowish deposits of cholesterol around the eyes (xanthelasma) are often a tell-tale sign of inherited high cholesterol.
People with this condition, called familial hypercholesterolemia, have dangerously high levels of cholesterol and are at high risk of developing coronary artery disease. FH is one of the most common genetic disorders, affecting about one in 300 people.
Fatty deposits can also show up in other areas of the body — usually the elbows, knuckles and knees. If you notice anything like this, ask your doctor if you could have inherited high cholesterol.
Does your partner complain about your loud snoring? Snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, which can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.
Ordinary snoring happens when tissues in the airway vibrate. In sleep apnea, the airway is physically obstructed. People with sleep apnea stop breathing during the night — or wake up gasping for air.
Other signs you could have sleep apnea:
- You wake up as tired as when you went to bed
- Morning headaches
- Sore throat
- High blood pressure
An enlarged neck can also be a sign of sleep apnea. Studies show that individuals with a neck size greater than 43 cm (17 inches) in men and 37 cm (15 inches) in women may be likely to have sleep apnea. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Studies show that bald spots on the crown of the head are associated with atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries. Research suggests that the location and size of a bald spot — especially in younger men — matters. Generally, larger bald spots equal higher risk.
Not all hair loss is cause for alarm. In a review of 850 studies, researchers found that frontal baldness (a receding hairline) was not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Unfortunately, like the crease in the earlobe, we have no idea why there seems to be a link between bald spots and increased heart disease, it could be associated with testosterone and other hormone levels circulating in the body but we have much to learn.
Should you worry?
By now, you may be taking a good, hard look in the mirror. If you’re seeing someone who is bald, overweight, has creased earlobes and slightly dirty fingernails — don’t freak out.
These superficial findings may be the tip of the iceberg. They may also be nothing.
Generally, signs like this are less concerning than traditional risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history and smoking. However, this may be an opportunity to ask questions about where you stand with traditional risk factors and if there are ways you can improve your cardiovascular health.
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This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, a medical diagnosis or treatment from a physician or qualified healthcare professional. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada assumes no responsibility or liability arising from any error in, or omission of, information, or from the use of any information or advice contained in this article.