A University of Iowa physiologist has a new technique to
measure the stiffness of the aorta, a common risk factor for heart disease. And
it can be as simple as measuring the pulse in your finger.
The new procedure developed by Gary Pierce, assistant
professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology, works by placing an
instrument called a transducer on the finger or over the brachial artery,
located inside the arm just beneath the elbow. The readout, combined with a
person’s age and body mass index, lets physicians know whether the aorta has
Currently physicians see whether a patient has a hardened
aorta by recording a pulse from the carotid artery, located in the neck, and
the femoral artery, which is located in the groin. Taking a pulse from the
finger or on the arm is easier to record and nearly as accurate, Pierce says.
It also works better with obese patients, whose femoral pulse can be difficult
to obtain reliably, he adds.
"The technique is more effective in that it is easy to
obtain just one pulse waveform in the finger or the brachial artery, and it's
less intrusive than obtaining a femoral waveform in patients," says
Pierce, first author on the paper, published in the American Journal of
Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology. "It also can be easily
obtained in the clinic during routine exams similar to blood pressure
Facts on heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and
women in the United States, killing about 600 000 people every year, according
to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One key to a healthy heart is a healthy aorta. A person’s
heart has to work harder when the aorta, the large artery that leaves the heart
and delivers blood to the body’s tissues, stiffens due to aging and an inactive
lifestyle. The harder a person’s heart needs to work, the higher risk he or she
has for developing high blood pressure, stroke and a heart attack.
Since people can live for years without any knowledge of
existing cardiovascular problems, this new measurement tool is especially
important. It can provide useful diagnostic information for middle-aged and
older patients, who are most susceptible to having hardened arteries that can
lead to heart disease.
Regular assessments of the aorta may help reduce those
risks. Pierce’s instrument measures notes the speed, called aortic pulse wave
velocity, at which the pulse moves between two points. The UI team validated
the new instrument’s performance against the carotid-femoral-artery pulse wave
velocity tests, considered the gold standard for determining aortic stiffness.
“Finding simple non-invasive methods to measure aortic pulse
wave velocity in the clinic may help physicians to better inform middle-aged
and older adults about their level of cardiovascular risk,” Pierce says, noting
that past studies have shown that regular exercise protects the aorta from
hardening in those age groups.