Symptoms & Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases of the Eye
The author H. Jackson Brown once said, “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.” This romantic statement alludes to our intuitive wisdom, but little did he know that the health of the eyes can give us insight into the health of the heart.
When eye doctors examine our eyes, they can tell a lot about our health. The body’s network of blood vessels, arteries and veins, are all interlinked, and if there is a vascular problem in any part of the body, it will show up in the blood vessels in the eye.
The health of the eye’s blood vessels can determine whether there is evidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and other health risk factors that affect the heart.
Every year, heart disease kills more North American women than cancer, and the most common cause of cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure; unfortunately, you can have high blood pressure and be completely unaware of it. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, rarely has physical symptoms, but it can lead to heart disease and stroke, and it can mean that you are at risk of having a variety of eye problems. In addition to hypertension, an eye exam can detect cyanotic heart disease, and evidence of a stroke.
This makes regular eye exams at your local Kelowna optometrist additionally valuable in assessing not only the health of your eyes, but also, your heart.
Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease in the Eyes?
There are a few symptoms of cardiovascular disease that show in the eyes. When we examine the eye using an ophthalmoscope, we can take a look at the back of the eye. This is a normal part of a regular eye exam, and it can detect the few warning signs that indicate the presence of heart health problems.
The connections between hypertension and physical changes in the retina show up as:
- Narrowing or ballooning blood vessels
- Spots on the retina
- Swelling at the base of the optic nerve
- Swelling in the central area of the retina
- Bleeding in the back of the eye
These are the signs of cardiovascular disease that we can find through an eye exam, and while many patients may not experience any symptoms that affect their vision, others may have a few warning signs such as:
- Blurred vision that comes and goes
- Double vision
- Puffy eyes
How Does Hypertension Lead to Vision Loss?
Changes in the appearance of retinal vessels can be an indication of high blood pressure, and although may not immediately affect your vision, if hypertension is extreme, it can affect the retinal blood vessels to the point where vision is lost.
Chronic hypertension can cause retinal arteriolar changes that lead to compression of the veins which results in branch retinal vein occlusion.
When the carotid artery narrows due to a buildup of plaque, it can predispose you to a stroke, and this can cause a blockage of a retinal arteriole, either central or branch. This is comparable to having a stroke in the eye, and it leads to vision loss due to loss of blood supply to the retina.
That sounds confusing, but it basically means that the narrowing of retinal arteries, and the dilatation of retinal veins are important signs of high blood pressure or other cardiovascular risks.
This condition can be accompanied by hemorrhaging and, in more serious cases, optic nerve atrophy, which can lead to vision loss.
A block in the retinal artery can easily be detected by an optometrist. A Kelowna eye exam can show that vision is good, and the pressure within the eyes is normal. But when the pupils are dilated, and we look more closely into his eyes, we may see a blood clot that is blocking the blood supply in a branch of the retinal artery. These clots are usually made from a buildup of cholesterol or blood cell fragments, and they create a blockage that stops the healthy flow of blood.
Fortunately, the same measure that can help improve heart health can improve eye health, and even small changes to your diet can make a big difference.
Stopping smoking, lowering alcohol intake, and increasing omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart and lower your risk of macular degeneration.
So the best way for you to ensure good vision is to stay healthy, stay wise, and take good care of your body, your mind, and your eyes. For any questions or to book an eye Exam, contact Sun Valley Optometry today.