More than meets the eye? The link between the eyes and heart

Woman holding hands together in the shape of a heart

More in common than meets the eye? Evidence suggests that the eyes and the heart, two very different organs, have more in common than one might expect. They share many characteristics that may help in the detection, prevention, and treatment of multiple health conditions.

For starters, they share several of the same risk factors. Risk factors for arteriosclerosis, diabetes or systemic hypertension, are also risk factors for eye diseases such as retinal arterial or retinal vein occlusions, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Not only do they share multiple risk factors, but they have a strong underlying pathological process. Additionally, they may benefit from some of the same types of treatment.

A study published in the European Heart Journal suggests a strong link between cardiovascular functions and risk factors, and the occurrence and progression of various eye diseases. Research presented by The American Academy of Ophthalmology has also demonstrated the association between carotid disease and multiple eye diseases. For instance, patients with atherosclerosis detected in the carotid vessels were more likely to have AMD and diabetic retinopathy.

Research published in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension journal found that patients with hypertensive retinopathy were also at an increased risk of developing stroke. These findings suggested that a retinal examination may be valuable for assessing stroke risk in patients with hypertension.

The eyes can provide a view into the development of diseases such as arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus or coronary heart disease. These conditions are all associated with structural vascular changes in the retina that can be detected by an ophthalmologist. In other words, the eyes really are a window into the heart.

The many benefits of a comprehensive eye exam are not exclusive to eye health. During a comprehensive eye exam, an ophthalmologist may be able to detect more than 20 chronic health conditions. Preventative measures such as following a healthy diet, exercising more, and quitting smoking combined with regular comprehensive eye exams and visits to your primary care provider can help reduce the risks of cardiovascular and eye diseases. Furthermore, ongoing coordination between the eye care professional and the primary care provider can better insure that patients receive the comprehensive health benefits of their regular eye examination.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all individuals have a comprehensive eye examination by age 40. Individuals with risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease should not delay. It is important to remember that your eye care professional will recommend further steps if your eye exam reveals a potential health problem. Schedule an eye exam today!


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