A simple test of fingertip blood vessels may be an accurate and non-invasive way to help identify people who have the earliest stages of atherosclerosis, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

"Atherosclerosis tends to affect all of the blood vessels in the body, and is not just limited to the arteries of the heart," says study leader Dr. Amir Lerman, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. "We found a strong correlation—the fingertip test was very sensitive in identifying patients with early heart disease."

The Study

Lerman's study, which included 94 patients who had chest pain, compared the results of a noninvasive fingertip probe called Reactive Hyperemia Peripheral Arterial Tonometry, or RH-PAT) with invasive catheterization to determine the extent of dysfunction in the cells that line blood vessels.

This layer of cells, called the endothelium, protects blood vessels from injury and also helps them expand and contract in order to maintain proper blood flow and blood pressure. Endothelial dysfunction indicates the early stages of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

"In this group of patients with chest pain, the noninvasive test was very sensitive in identifying those with early heart disease," notes Lerman.

"The next step is to extend the research to broader populations of patients who may not yet have symptoms," he says.

"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 says.

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