Heart disease risk may show in your earlobes, eyes, fingers

Story highlights

  • Creased earlobes and clubbed fingernails are linked to higher heart disease risk
  • Other risks include halo around the iris and fatty bumps under the skin

The heart, so integral to life, sits in its protective cage in the chest, going about its work without any external sign to the owner.

In the West, where one in four people die of cardiovascular disease, the importance of keeping the heart in good working order is hard to overstate. Sadly, the first sign many people have that their heart isn't in good working order is when they have a heart attack.
Although you can't see your heart beating in your chest -- not without specialist imaging technology, at least -- there are visible, external signs that can indicate if something is wrong with your heart, before you suffer from a life-changing -- or ending -- "cardiovascular event".

    1. Creased earlobes

    One such external indicator is diagonal creases on the earlobes -- known as Frank's sign, named after Sanders Frank, an American doctor who first described the sign. Studies have shown that there is an association with the visible external crease on the earlobe and increased risk of atherosclerosis, a disease where plaque builds up inside your arteries.
    Over 40 studies have demonstrated an association between this feature of the ear and an increased risk of atherosclerosis. It is not clear what the cause of the association is, but some have postulated that it is to do with a shared embryological origin. Most recently, it has been seen that these creases are also implicated in cerebrovascular disease -- disease of the blood vessels in the brain.

    2. Fatty bumps

    Another external indicator of heart issues is yellow, fatty bumps -- known clinically as "xanthomas" -- that can appear on the elbows, knees, buttocks or eyelids. The bumps themselves are harmless, but they can be a sign of bigger problems.
    Xanthomas are most commonly seen in people with a genetic disease called familial hypercholesterolemia. People with this condition have exceptionally high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol -- so-called "bad cholesterol". The levels of this cholesterol are so high they become deposited in the skin. Unfortunately, these fatty deposits are also laid down in