August 5, 2009

Heart Risk Information at Our Fingertips

A simple sensor test may provide tip-off about impending cardiac events

By Bruce Morgan

A device can assess the health of a person’s endothelial cells by measuring blood flow in his or her finger. Photo: iStock

Results of a study jointly conducted by researchers at Tufts Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic show that a simple finger sensor test is “highly predictive” of a major cardiac event such as heart attack or stroke for people at low or moderate risk.

The finger device, called the EndoPAT, assesses the health of a person’s endothelial cells by measuring blood flow. Endothelial cells line the blood vessels and regulate normal blood flow. If these cells don’t function properly, the condition can invite hardening of the arteries and lead to major cardiovascular health problems. Before EndoPAT came along, there was no simple test for endothelium function, notes Amir Lerman, the Mayo Clinic cardiologist who led the study.

Researchers at Mayo and Tufts used the device to test 270 patients between the ages of 42 and 66 and followed their progress from 1999 to 2007. Some 49 percent of patients whose EndoPAT test indicated poor endothelial function had a cardiac event during the seven-year study. Some of their risk factors included high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a family history of heart disease.

“The results of the study may help identify a discriminating tool beyond the Framingham Risk Score,” Lerman remarks. “And the results of these individual tests may also help physicians change a patient’s medication or recommend other therapies so they don’t have a heart attack or stroke later on.”

EndoPAT consists of digital recording equipment and two finger probes resembling large thimbles. For the 15-minute test, probes are placed on each index finger and hooked up to a small machine to measure blood flow. A blood pressure cuff is placed on one arm; the other, uncuffed arm acts as the control. A reading of the fingers’ blood flow rate begins, and then the blood pressure cuff on one arm is inflated and deflated in sequence, allowing for three timed readings.

Tufts research team members for the study included Jeffrey Kuvin, associate professor of medicine, and Morgan Soffler, M11.

Bruce Morgan can be reached at

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