Do earlobe creases really indicate you may have coronary heart disease? —Jen
You may say: This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. But earlobe creases shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, as they fall into the surprisingly large category of weird signs possibly indicative of heart disease. If you doubt it, have a seat while we inventory your personal issues. You might think you’ve got problems now, but in reality things may be oh-so-much-worse.
Earlobe crease (ELC), i.e., a line running from the bottom of the ear opening to the ear’s lower tip. I first discussed this in 1997, observing that, based on research then available, if you had hairy ears with creased lobes, you were a heart attack waiting to happen. The jury’s still out on the hairy part, but ELC’s status as portent of doom is confirmed:
• A Swedish study of 520 autopsies found ELC had a “positive predictive value” for coronary artery disease of 68 percent—80 percent in those under 40.
• A Turkish study found ELC was a higher risk factor for heart disease than diabetes, family history of cardiovascular trouble, or smoking.
• Of 340 patients admitted to the Montreal Heart Institute, 91 percent of those with ELC had heart disease versus only 61 percent of those without.
• An Irish study of 247 patients found ELC had a predictive value of 71 percent for heart disease, showing what statisticians call low sensitivity but high specificity. Translated: If you don’t have ELC, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have heart disease, but if you do have ELC, it’s a pretty good bet you do. (To be fair, other research hasn’t found as strong a correlation.)
Why a connection between ELC and heart disease? Nobody knows. The most plausible theory I’ve heard is that ELC indicates premature aging.
You don’t have creased lobes? You’re not off the hook yet. We continue with our checklist of heart disease signs:
Male pattern baldness. The largest study, which looked at more than 22,000 male doctors over 11 years, found men with frontal baldness were about 9 percent more likely to have heart disease than their nonbalding peers, while those with baldness at the crown of their heads were 23 to 36 percent more likely—and the balder you are, the higher the risk. On the plus side, while a 2007 study confirmed that baldness = higher heart disease risk, it also concluded baldness wasn’t a reliable indicator all by itself.
Bad breath. Some studies claim people with lots of antibodies due to bum gums have a 50 to 100 percent greater chance of heart disease. One study found treating gum disease could reduce thickening of the carotid arteries.
Acne, absence of. A study of 11,000 U.K. males found that men who had acne as teenagers had a 30 percent lower chance of dying from cardiovascular or heart disease. Unfortunately, they also had twice the risk of dying from prostate cancer.
Green snot. An upcoming paper in Biochemical Journal reportedly shows a connection between heart disease and green snot, which is caused by an enzyme called myeloperoxidase. The enzyme fights bacteria by producing hypochlorous acid, which can also damage your body’s tissues and lead to asthma, arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
Earwax. There are two kinds of earwax: gray, brittle, and dry; and brown, sticky, and wet. You produce just one kind or the other. In 1966 a Japanese study seemed to show that dry earwaxers had a greater risk of arteriosclerosis than wet earwaxers. This observation has never been confirmed, and a later reviewer rightly notes that such results should be regarded with suspicion. —Cecil Adams
Is there something you need to get straight? Take it up with Cecil at straightdope.com.