Early Signs of Heart Disease Appear in the Eyes

During a comprehensive eye exam, patients are often asked to look into a light (optokinetic response) or read an eye chart. Some physicians also use a device for measuring intraocular pressure (IOP). Although these methods can reveal conditions such as glaucoma and diabetes, it may surprise you to learn that many common eye conditions are also related to heart disease. Research has shown that the signs of heart disease often appear in the eyes long before other symptoms emerge. This has led researchers to conclude that “heart disease begins in the eye.”

Here’s what to know about detecting heart disease and how your ophthalmologist can help.

How eye exams can detect eye disease

To quantify the potential link between heart disease and eye disease, researchers have conducted studies that evaluate how well the signs of eye disease correlate with symptoms of heart disease. It is first helpful to understand the anatomical relationship between the eye and the heart to understand this connection.

1. The eye is located in a bony cavity within the skull called the orbit. The roof of the orbit is called the pterygoid process, and the floor of the orbit is called the sphenoid bone. The front part of each eye is covered by a protective eyelid that closes as you sleep.

2. The optic nerve attaches to the back of the eyeball at the optic disc and leads to the brain. The optical disc is responsible for converting images into nerve impulses, which enable us to see.

3. The temple is a bone structure located at the lateral aspect of the eye. The frontal, ethmoid, sphenoid, and maxillary bones can all be thought of as variations of the temple structure.

An eye exam can reveal signs of heart disease because many of the same vessels that carry blood to and from the heart also supply blood to and from the eye. The largest artery in the human body is the aorta, which begins at the heart’s left ventricle. The aorta is quite large and divides into two branches that supply the head and neck with blood. These branches are called the carotid arteries. The carotid arteries divide into smaller and smaller vessels that are eventually responsible for carrying blood to all body parts.

Catching eye disease early can save lives

Your ophthalmologist can help by conducting an annual comprehensive eye exam. This includes a visual field test, in which your doctor uses a series of lights to determine how well you can see in different directions. For example, results might indicate that a patient may be a potential heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm victim. In that case, the ophthalmologist can refer the patient to a cardiologist or physician for further testing. This way, the signs of heart disease may be caught in their earliest stages.

Schedule an Appointment

To meet with our team of ophthalmologists and learn more about how to catch heart disease early on, contact Eye Care Physicians & Surgeons of New Jersey by calling or filling out our online form.

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