The preliminary results of research into facial expressions as visual indicators of cardiopulmonary disease suggest that people with serious heart and lung conditions do not have the normal range of facial expressions. Publishing their results in Emergency Medicine Journal, the researchers think that their findings may help doctors quickly decide which patients to prioritize for treatment.

The team tested the diagnostic accuracy of reduced facial expression range in 50 adults with shortness of breath and chest pain who presented to an emergency care department, and who were scanned for serious heart or lung disease and monitored for 2 weeks.

The researchers analyzed the webcam recordings and compared the FACS scores with the objective medical diagnoses the patients received while in the hospital.

They found that patients with chest pain and shortness of breath who had a potentially serious condition affecting their heart or lungs had a significantly reduced range of facial expressions in response to the visual cues than people who did not have these conditions.

“We believe that due to the gravity of their illness, [these] patients may not have been able to process and respond to an emotional stimulus in the way that would be expected of most people under normal conditions.

The authors believe their findings emphasize the importance of a doctor being able to accurately “read” a patient’s face, suggesting this may become even more important as consultations over Skype become more common.