People with a diagonal crease in their earlobe may be more likely to die from heart failure, a new study says.

The crease may signal heart problems, perhaps because blood vessels that feed the heart and ear are similar, the study says."If the eyes are the `windows on the soul,' then perhaps we should start to think of the earlobes as sort of a garbled phone call from the heart," said William Elliott, assistant professor of medicine and of pharmacological and physiological sciences at the University of Chicago.

Critics called the link tenuous and said creased ears may simply result from aging, sleeping on the ear or wearing heavy earrings.

"It sounds like an amusing study, but one without medical significance," said Dr. E.P. Benditt, a pathologist and heart researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"I wouldn't tell my patients to get all hot and bothered about it," he said.

The report will be presented Monday in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Federation for Clinical Research.

Beginning in 1979, Elliott followed 27 sets of patients in St. Louis over more than eight years. Each set consisted of four patients of identical age, sex and race. Their ages ranged from 54 to 72.

Patients fell into four categories: those with both an earlobe crease and a history of coronary artery disease; a history of coronary artery disease but no crease; a crease but no history of coronary artery disease; and no crease and no signs of heart disease.

After more than eight years, 54 of the 108 patients died, including 34 patients who had earlobe creases and 20 who did not.