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How an Eye Exam can Help Your Heart

You often hear a lot about taking care of your heart and looking for signs of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. However, did you know that a trip to eye doctor can also play a very important role in identifying these diseases before the symptoms even show up elsewhere in the body? This allows for earlier, and possibly more effective, treatment. In fact, many of these conditions can also cause vision loss if not managed effectively.

Optometrists such as Dr. Charles McMasters can detect early signs of heart disease and high blood pressure during your preventative eye exams. Through careful examination of the retina, Dr. McMasters can detect minor changes in the blood vessels in the back of your eye, which can indicate more serious systemic disease. Due to their enormous demand for oxygen, these tiny retinal blood vessels can be easily damaged by high blood pressure.

In fact, the eye is the only area on the body where doctors are able to obtain an unobstructed view of blood vessels in the human body. Each year, research continues to show that the type and severity of changes in the retina can be predictors for intensity of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure, stroke, and even heart failure. In addition, advancements in vision technology such as digital retinal imaging allows eye doctors to quickly (and painlessly) detect and monitor blood flow to your retina.

Diagnosing High Blood Pressure through the Eyes

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is commonly referred to as a “silent” disease because victims often lack symptoms. Approximately 65 million Americans are affected by high blood pressure; however, only 34% of them have it under good control. During your regular comprehensive eye examination at Dogwood Vision Care, Dr. McMasters checks for several subtle changes in the retina resulting from high blood pressure.

The damaged caused by heart disease and high blood pressure inside the eye is called hypertensive retinopathy. Some of the related changes that can occur in the retina includes narrowing of the small blood vessels, flame-shaped hemorrhages, and arteries pressing down on veins, among other complications.

Studies have shown that the presence of retinopathy can be a reason to begin blood pressure treatment. Early blood vessel changes in the eye can be a sign of high blood pressure. This has been proven to occur even in people with normal blood pressure readings.

Vision Loss Due to Cardiovascular Diseases

People with signs of hypertensive retinopathy have increased chances of having a stroke. This also includes higher chances of experiencing strokes within the eyes that can lead to blindness.

Due to thickening of the walls of smaller arteries, hardened arteries can ‘pinch’ the veins, causing blockages called retinal vein occlusions. Vision loss can occur when the eye is deprived of oxygen, the macula swells, or blood obstructs the retina. When the central retinal vein becomes blocked, vision loss can become more pronounced. Obstructions of the arteries and blood vessels in the retina can be temporary or permanent and can cause vision loss when a blood flow to the eye is disrupted by a blockage.

Your comprehensive eye exam is an important tool. If these changes are detected early, Dr. McMasters can work with your primary care doctor to ensure you receive prompt and appropriate treatment.

Healthy Heart, Healthy Eyes

One of the best ways to prevent retinopathy is to avoid major heart disease risk factors. Studies have shown that the risk factors that indicate or lead to heart damage are also harmful to the eyes.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of heart disease. In addition to increasing your chances of retinopathy, smoking also contributes to the development of cataracts (a cloudy eye lens) and macular degeneration (loss of central vision).

Conversely, some ways to help improve your overall heart and eye health includes maintaining a heart healthy diet, regular physical activity, weight management, and stress minimization.

Remember to schedule your annual eye exam. Your eye care specialists at Dogwood Vision Care are here to help! Dr. McMasters might just tell you something you didn’t know about your heart. Catching the signs early can mean treatment before it damages your eyes and other parts of your body.