TUESDAY, Dec. 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A simple test of fingertip blood vessels may help identify people with the earliest stages of atherosclerosis, says a Mayo Clinic study in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
"Atherosclerosis tends to affect all of the blood vessels in the body, and is not just limited to the arteries of the heart. We expected patients with an abnormal result in the fingertip test to also have disease starting in their coronary arteries. We found a strong correlation, and that the fingertip test was very sensitive in identifying patients with early heart disease," study leader Dr. Amir Lerman, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, said in a prepared statement.
The study included 94 patients with chest pain. Lerman and his colleagues compared the results of the noninvasive fingertip probe and invasive catheterization in detecting dysfunction in endothelial cells that line blood vessels.
This layer of cells, called the endothelium, protects blood vessels from injury and also helps in the expansion and contraction of blood vessels in order to maintain proper blood flow and blood pressure. Endothelial dysfunction indicates the early stages of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
In all, 55 patients had coronary endothelial dysfunction.
"In this group of patients with chest pain, the noninvasive test was very sensitive in identifying those with early heart disease," Lerman said.
"The next step is to extend the research to broader populations of patients who may not yet have symptoms. Because this is a simple test that takes only about 20 minutes, we hope it could become another screening tool to help us identify and more effectively treat patients with heart disease," Lerman said.
Atherosclerosis is a process in which deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances build up on the inner lining of an artery. This buildup is called plaque. Plaques can grow large enough to significantly reduce the blood's flow through an artery, according to the American Heart Association.
The American Heart Association has more about atherosclerosis.