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Yale doctor explains how quick hand & thumb test can determine risk of aneurysm

(WTNH) — It is a simple test you can do right now, and it could save your life. Just stick out your hand like you’re telling someone to stop, and then see how far your thumb can stretch across your palm.

That simple test saved the lives of twin sisters, Heather and Crystal Gagnon.

A couple of years ago, Heather had some health issues and got checked out by Dr. John Elefteriades, an aorta specialist at Yale New Haven Hospital.

“So he says, ‘Sit up on the table’ and he goes, ‘I’m going to do a test on you.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, what?’ and he goes, ‘Just do this,’” Heather explained, holding up her hand stretching her thumb all the way past the other side of her palm.

“He goes, ‘Yup, that’s a strong positive.’ And I was like, ‘What is this?’”

It is called the thumb-palm test, and it’s all about collagen. Collagen holds our organs together. If your thumb reaches all the way past the far side of your palm, the collagen in your hand may be deficient.

“The collagen in the aorta is also deficient,” said Elefteriades. “So because it’s deficient, the aorta can stretch, and as it stretches like a balloon, it can rupture.”

It is called an aortic aneurysm. Dr. Elefteriades says aortic aneurysms are more common than we used to think, and they can happen with no warning.

“95% of patients don’t have an inkling of any kind until the aorta ruptures and they die,” said Dr. Elefteriades.

“We both shouldn’t be here right now because there were no symptoms at all from it,” Heather said.
Tests showed Heather had an aneurysm, and she got surgery after Dr. Elefteriades gave her the thumb-palm test. Crystal tried it, too.

“Just a quick thing that your doctor can do,” said Crystal. “I can see it saving lives.”

She had the same exact issue with her aorta, and she had the surgery, too. The twins say they are doing great, now that they’ve had the surgery. Most people with aneurysms will do great if the condition is found.

Now, don’t panic if your thumb stretches across your hand. The thumb-palm test is not a guarantee that you will have an aneurysm, and not all aneurysm patients have stretchy thumbs.

“Only a minority of patients with aneurysms have a positive test,” said Dr. Elefteriades. “If you have a positive test, you’re in an enriched group with a high degree of aneurysms.”

Just mention the test to your doctor. The Gagnon sisters are certainly glad they heard about it.

“Another year, she and I shouldn’t be here right now,” Heather said. “So we’re blessed. Definitely.”

So the hope is not only more and more that people do the test on their own, but more and more doctors will administer that test to their patients, as well.


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