A bulging gut can be a pretty obvious outward clue that the inner workings of your body might be in danger.
But your earlobes might be telling a similar story, a new study in the American Journal of Medicine suggests.
After studying 241 patients who were hospitalized with a stroke, the researchers discovered that 79 percent of them showed Frank’s sign—a diagonal ear lobe crease extending from the tragus to the bottom of the lobe in a 45 degree angle.
Sixty-six of the patients who suffered an acute ischemic stroke—the most common kind of stroke, which results from a clot blocking blood flow to the brain—had previously experienced a heart attack.
Of this group, nearly 9 out of 10 showed Frank’s sign.
What’s more, stroke patients who had common heart disease risk factors, like high blood pressure and diabetes, were also significantly more likely to show Frank’s sign, too. (Think you can ID a heart attack in the making? Six guys who actually had a heart attack tells you what it really feels like.)
But some patients without heart disease also exhibited Frank’s sign, meaning that it may serve as an outward sign of hidden heart woes that may eventually lead to a heart attack or other event.
Frank’s sign was first described in the 1970s in a patient with heart disease, and since then, experts have suggested it should be added to the classic risk factors as an independent signal of heart disease.
They have a couple theories about how this earlobe crease can mirror your heart risk: It may signal poor blood supply to their earlobes, or represent micro-problems or weakening in your vessels, as shown by degeneration of elastin fibers in the ears, the study authors write.
It’s also possible that the earlobe crease and the increased chances of heart disease are both factors of increased aging, or that genes that dictate the occurrence of Frank’s sign may put you at genetic risk of heart disease, too.
The researchers hope that raising awareness of the link between Frank’s sign and heart and cerebrovascular disease may allow for doctors to identify patients who may be at risk sooner—before a heart attack or stroke occurs.
If you notice the crease on your ears, talk with your doctor about your risk factors, and see if he or she recommends any additional tests to check the health of your vessels.