Healthy eyes start with a healthy heart. That is what I always tell my patients in my exam room. The arrangement of blood vessels at the back of the eye are closely connected to the health of your heart. However, many patients don’t realize that cardiovascular and eye diseases share the same underlying causes as well as the same treatment. Inflammation is at the root of many of these diseases, which your doctor can help detect through an annual comprehensive eye exam.
According to a recent survey conducted by VSP Vision Care and YouGov, virtually no one (1%) knows that signs of serious diseases and conditions that affect the heart and eyes, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can be detected through an eye exam. That’s concerning because if conditions like these are left untreated, they can cause serious eye diseases such as hypertensive retinopathy, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein and artery occlusion, and macular degeneration, to name a few. All of which can cause vision issues or loss if left untreated.
I’ve seen a range of heart-related eye diseases while practicing optometry. Patients often come in with only a complaint of blurry vision. Most are completely unaware of the state of their overall health and how their blurry vision may be caused by an underlying condition.
I once had a patient come in who couldn’t see out of one eye. The patient wasn’t in pain and thought he simply needed an updated pair of glasses. Upon dilation, I discovered he had central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO). CRAO is usually caused by carotid artery disease, which narrows blood vessels in the neck carrying blood from the heart to the brain. Prior to coming in for an eye exam, this patient was unaware he had carotid artery disease. I was relieved I was able to find the disease when I did so he could get the additional care he needed.
Other heart diseases, such as bacterial endocarditis, stroke, high cholesterol and diabetes can also be detected through an eye exam. By recognizing and detecting these linked cardiovascular and eye diseases, health practitioners have a more comprehensive way of providing preventive care to patients. The next time you’re due for an annual eye exam, remember your overall health. Your eyes and heart will thank you later.