Figure 1. From (1) with permission.
In case you didn’t spot it here is another example:
Figure 2. Same patient with more obvious example on left ear.
Answer: Diagonal earlobe crease (DELC).
1. What eponym is associated with this sign?
Answer: Frank’s – named after Dr Sanders T. Frank observed this crease in 20 patients with angina (2).
2. What are the associations?
After the initial identification in patients with coronary artery disease there have been larger studies documenting the presence of DELC in coronary artery disease (3), peripheral vascular disease (4) as well as cerebrovascular disease (5).
3. Do patients with DELC have increased risk of developing serious vascular disease?
Anecdotally, it is more often present in patients presenting to cardiology service who have had previous coronary bypass surgery. Just look at your patients ears next time you are on a cardiology ward!
However, the risk of developing vascular disease if noted in an asymptomatic individual is debated. In hospitalized patients, a recent meta-analysis showed a significant trend with multivariate analysis showed an association between DELC and cardiovascular events (odds ratio 1.45, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.08 to 1.93, p [0.012], with a sensitivity and specificity of 43% and 70%) (6).
Notably these associations are not demonstrable in diabetic patients (7) and some studies suggest the association with any vascular disease is not significant (8).
4. What is the pathophysiology of this sign?
Again here theories vary, with no definitive answer. Some reports suggest micro-vascular disease in the middle ear lobe (9) which are end-artery territory. Others report shortened telomere length in Japanese patients with metabolic syndrome as a general pro-ageing and atherosclerotic mechanism (10). Interestingly this sign has also received attention in alternative medicine as the area of the earlobe affected was found to have higher electrical conductivity and tenderness in auricular reflexology (11).
5. Is there a grading system for the sign?
Yes, as it typical with many physical signs, observation is only the first step in accurate examination. When you find the sign, it has a grading system that has been linked to incidence of cardiovascular events based on length, depth, bilateralism, and inclination (6).
• Unilateral incomplete – least severe
• Unilateral complete
• Bilateral complete – most severe
Other classifications systems exist, but without the association with increased cardiovascular events (12):
• Grade 1 – wrinkling
• Grade 2a – superficial crease (floor of sulcus visible)
• Grade 2b – crease more than 50% across earlobe
• Grade 3 – deep cleft across whole earlobe (floor of sulcus not visible)
6. Do you know of any famous individuals with this sign?
The Roman emperor Hadrian in sculptures displayed across the world displays DELC. According to Wikipedia more recent famous people with DELC include George W. Bush and Steven Spielberg. Let’s hope they have gone to see their cardiologists recently.
Figure 3. Emperor Hadrian with right DELC (red arrow) at British Museum.
Figure 4. Steven Spielberg with left DELC (red arrow). Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
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