Simple Thumb-Palm Test May Help Detect Likelihood Of Aneurysm

What if there were a simple, free test you do with your thumb and hand that could save your life? CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports.

Video Transcript

- New at 5:00 right now, diagnosing a medical condition that can often be complex and expensive.

- But what if there were a simple, free test you could do with your thumb and your hand? CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez shows us how it saved the lives of identical twins from Connecticut.

HEATHER GAGNON: They said just do this, and I was like really, that's it?

MAX GOMEZ: Heather Gagnon didn't think her heart surgeon was serious, then her identical twin sister tried it, too. Both women could extend their thumbs beyond their palms. Hard to believe, but that's a risk factor for a deadly swelling of the aorta in the chest called an aneurysm.

JOHN ELEFTERIADES: When it gets swollen, it's susceptible to rupture. Rupture is catastrophic when it occurs. Over 8% of all sudden deaths are due to a rupture aneurysm.

MAX GOMEZ: Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. John Elefteriades has known of a thumb palm test anecdotally for years, and decided to study it scientifically. His recent paper in the American Journal of Cardiology found--

JOHN ELEFTERIADES: If you have a positive thumb-palm contest, there's a pretty high likelihood that you may harbor a thoracic aneurysm.

MAX GOMEZ: Turns out, people who can cross their thumbs beyond their palms have weak collagen or loose connective tissue, which means the collagen in their aorta may also be weak. Worse yet, aortic aneurysms rarely have any symptoms.

- I had no idea that I had an aneurysm.

MAX GOMEZ: Further tests revealed the extent of the Gagnon's aneurysms, and both had them surgically replaced with a synthetic graft. They say the thumb test likely saved their lives, and should be an easy part of a regular doctor's visit.

CRYSTAL GAGNON: A simple thing that they could add on to a physical. What does it hurt?

MAX GOMEZ: If you do have a positive thumb test, it doesn't mean that you have an aneurysm. It's a risk factor or a warning sign, like high cholesterol, that should be investigated further. And the negative test doesn't mean that you don't have one, just that you're at lower risk. Either way, early detection and repair can be a lifesaver. Dr. Max Gomez, CBS 2 News.

- Dr. Max adds that an aortic aneurysm can easily be monitored with a simple echocardiogram to determine whether it's growing and may need surgery. But you can get an early warning sign as early as young adulthood with that thumb test.