You may be at
a higher risk of getting heart disease if you’re overweight or you smoke. But what
could a diagonal crease in your earlobe tell you?
Whereas a “normal” earlobe is smooth, an
earlobe with a crease has a fold, straight line, or wrinkle
that appears to cut the earlobe in half. An open letter published in
the New England
Journal of Medicine in 1973 reported that a diagonal earlobe crease (ELC) was a
potential indicator of coronary artery disease (CAD).
This crease was later called “Frank’s sign,” after the letter writer, Dr. Sanders T. Frank.
Could such a small mark on your ear really
have anything to do with heart disease?
How Could Ear Creases Indicate Heart
aren’t sure how these two might be connected, but there are
some theories. Degeneration of the elastic tissue around the small blood
vessels that carry blood to the earlobes produces the earlobe crease. This is
the same type of change in blood vessels associated
with CAD. In other words, visible changes that show up in tiny blood vessels of
the ear could indicate similar changes in those blood vessels that can’t be
seen around the heart.
disorders like Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, an overgrowth disorder, in children
or genetic factors such as race and earlobe shape also can cause a crease. So how concerned should you be if you have an
scientists have looked at the potential connection
between earlobe creases and CAD. Some studies have shown a correlation,
while others have not.
A study of 340
patients published in 1982 found an earlobe crease to be a sign
associated with aging and CAD. The crease suggested the presence of a more
severe form of heart disease in people who were
showing symptoms. The earlobe crease, the researchers wrote, “may identify a
subset of patients prone to early aging and to the early development of
coronary artery disease, whose prognosis might be improved by early
Another study published in 1989 studied the bodies of 300 patients who
had died from various causes. In this study, the diagonal
creases were associated with cardiovascular causes of
death. The researchers wrote, “We found a strong
association between earlobe creases and a cardiovascular cause of death in men
and women after age, height, and diabetes had been controlled for.”
A 1991 study found similar results. So did a study publsihed in 2006, which reported that an ear crease in people younger than age 40 was a sign of CAD in up to 80 percent of cases. In a 2012 study, 430 patients with no history of CAD were examined for ear creases and then given a CT scan for CAD. Those
with an ear crease were more likely to have CAD.
Other studies have shown different
results. A study in 1980 showed no significant relationship between
ELC and CAD in American Indians. This indicates that “Frank’s sign” may not
show the same correlation in other ethnic groups. Another study of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii also
found no connection. Studies have
indicated that the sign may be less indicative in people who have other important risk factors for CAD, particularly
Some studies have
theorized that as people age, the presence of earlobe creases and heart disease increase — especially after
they reach age 50. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to do with
the other. A study by University of
Massachusetts Medical School concluded
that earlobe creases are a simple feature of the aging process in some people.
What Does It Mean for You?
established a connection between earlobe creases and heart disease
that it’s worth taking a wrinkle
on your ear seriously. A 2011 NYU School of Medicine student review of the studies concluded that ELC predicts
CAD more often than traditional risk factors and that it may be useful for identifying patients with the disease.
your doctor first. They’ll most likely test your blood
pressure, cholesterol levels, and other risk factors. Taking
everything — including your ears — into account will create a
clear overall picture of your risk and determine what steps you can take to
protect your heart health.