Not only are round, perfect whorls, particularly on fingers on the right hand, associated with higher blood pressure but also the blood pressure count increases in line with the number of ridges that form the pattern of the print.
Dr Keith Godfrey and colleagues at the Medical Research Council's Epidemiology Unit, at Southampton University, believe that the link between the whorls and blood pressure is directly related to the development of the foetus.
The surprisingly scientific guide to a person's future health is reported in tomorrow's edition of the British Medical Journal. The researchers say that both the prints and the shape of the palm are measures of foetal growth. The patterns of the ridges of the prints form between the 13th and 19th week of pregnancy and reflect the baby's development.
A higher number of whorls, rather than arches or loops as defined by the triradii, the circles or part circles that make up the print, indicate impairment in growth, they say.
They found that 93 men and women with two or more whorls on their fingers had systolic blood pressure on average eight points higher than 46 people who had no whorls.
Dr Godfrey also found that thin hands were a separate indication of higher blood pressure. The researchers measured the palmar angle at the bottom of the triangle formed by lines drawn between the palm pads of the index and little finger and the heel of the hand.
The smaller the angle the greater the chance of high blood pressure. This was also linked with foetal development. Dr Godfrey says: 'Fingertip whorls and a narrow palmar angle are indelible markers of impaired foetal development . . . Both are associated with raised blood pressure in adult life.'
High blood pressure is strongly linked to strokes in adult life and may also contribute to heart disease. Increasingly, recent studies are showing the seeds of these conditions are sown in early life and childhood.
Dr Godfrey says that the new research provides further evidence that raised blood pressure in adults can be traced back to the womb.