Eyes are said to be the gateway to the soul—and can also reveal surprising early clues to cardiovascular disease risk. Three new studies report that noninvasive exams of blood vessels in the eyes can potentially identify patients with a high lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of Americans.
The researchers linked subtle changes in the eye’s blood circulation to blood vessel problems elsewhere in the body, as well as increased risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of heart attack risk factors that affects about 50 million Americans, many of who are unaware of their danger.
The studies suggest that eye exams could be a painless, noninvasive way to tell which patients have short-term or long-term cardiovascular risk, so those people could get preventative care to ward off threats to their blood vessel health.
There’s a link between the health of blood vessels in the retina and ejection function, a test that measures how well the heart pumps in each beat, according to a new study that looked at 229 patients with high blood pressure.
A second study observed 268 patients with high blood pressure, but no history of heart disease. A significant link was found between retinal vascular alterations, or changes in the retina’s eye vessels, and arterial stiffness, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
The third study showed that there was a link between damage to the retina’s blood vessels and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of cardiometabolic abnormalities that that triple risk for heart attack and quintuple it for type 2 diabetes.
To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, which also boosts risk for stroke and kidney disease, you must have at least three of the following 5 conditions:
An earlier study from the University of Sidney showed that 28.6 percent of people with diabetes had retinopathy, and the eye disorder was shown to increase the risk of death due to heart problems by 121 percent for those with diabetes, and by 33 percent for those without it. Study authors pointed out that the increased risk of death due to heart disease for people who suffered from retinopathy but did not have diabetes was equal to the increased risk due to diabetes.
Furthermore, a study observing close to 13,000 people showed that the condition xanthelasmata (or patches of yellow skin around the eyelids) predicted the risk of heart disease, atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries) and death.
In addition to eye health predicting the risk of disease, specific health problems can lead to vision problems.
Untreated high blood pressure can create eye problems by straining blood vessels in the eye, which can cause blurred vision, bleeding in the eyes and even vision loss. “If you also have both diabetes and high blood pressure, you’re at even greater risk,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
High blood pressure can also cause choroidopathy, a condition where blood vessels leak and fluid to accumulate underneath the retina, which can create vision problems.
Furthermore, high blood pressure can damage the eye’s optic nerve, which can lead to bleeding in the eye or vision loss.
“High blood pressure damage is cumulative, so the longer it goes untreated, the higher the likelihood of permanent damage,” according to the American Heart Association. High blood pressure can also dead to strokes, which can lead to vision loss.
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