Your eyes can reveal your heart disease status, here’s how

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A new study finds that doctors may be able to detect whether you have cardiovascular disease or not through biomarkers present in eyes.

An eye exam may be able to show signs of cardiovascular disease through tiny lesions in eye retina, researchers at the Shiley Eye Institute at University of California San Diego Health have found.

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“The eyes are a window into our health, and many diseases can manifest in the eye; cardiovascular disease is no exception,” lead author of the study and physician-scientist and retina surgeon at UC San Diego Health Dr. Mathiew Bakhoum said in a statement published on the University’s website.

Decreased blood flow caused by heart disease, known as Ischemia, “can lead to inadequate blood flow to the eye and may cause cells in the retina to die, leaving behind a permanent mark,” said Bakhoum.

“We termed this mark ‘retinal ischemic perivascular lesions,’ or RIPLs, and sought to determine if this finding could serve as a biomarker for cardiovascular disease.”

Presence of lesions indicate level of heart disease risk

The researchers’ findings were based on the review of records of people who received eye exams, also known as retinal optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans, at UC San Diego Health between July 2014 and July 2019.

They were able to identify two groups after medical chart review: one that consisted of 84 people with heart disease and the other comprised on 76 health people who were used as the control group for the study.

The eyes of the individuals who had heart disease were found to have had more RIPLs and according to the researchers, the higher the RIPLs in the eye, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The only way we can visualize the smallest blood vessels in the body is in the eyes,” explained Anthony DeMaria, MD, Judith and Jack White Chair in Cardiology and cardiologist at the University.

“The retina in particular provides important evidence of the adverse effects of cardiovascular issues, such as high blood pressure,” he added.

Early eye exams can mitigate risk of future strokes, heart attacks

“It’s my hope that the presence of RIPLs in the eye will serve as a marker for cardiovascular disease when patients are undergoing assessment of risk factors for heart disease, or when patients are undergoing evaluation for the suspected presence of heart disease,” said DeMaria.

Identifying RIPLs early on could help individuals seek early therapy and preventative measures, which in the long run, could mitigate the risk of future strokes and heart attacks.

“Globally, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death and unfortunately many people are unaware they may have heart issues,” said Bakhoum.

“The key in preventing this is early detection and treatment. It’s our hope that by identifying RIPLs as a marker for cardiovascular disease providers will be able to identify heart issues before a catastrophic event, such as a heart attack or a stroke, occurs.”

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