Your Eyes Can Predict Future Heart Disease

August 14, 2008 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Retinopathy Can Signal Heart Disease

Scientists have discovered that retinopathy, a type of eye damage most commonly caused by problems with the blood supply to one’s eyes, can signal heart disease even when a patient otherwise shows no signs or symptoms of heart disease. Retinopathy gradually damages tiny blood vessels in the eyes, with diabetic retinopathy and hypertensive (as in hypertension, or high blood pressure) retinopathy the most prevalent types of retinopathic disorders.


The scientists studied retinal photos of 3,000 patients, most of whom were diabetic. Retinal photos are often taken to see if diabetes is damaging vision. Checking death records of the patients, the scientists learned that 11.9 percent of patients with retinopathy died of heart disease over the ensuing 12 years — a mortality rate twice as high as for people without retinopathy. A retinopathy diagnosis increased the risk of heart disease as much as a diagnosis of diabetes did. (Diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease, is the leading cause of death in most industrialized nations.) The scientists indicated that retinopathic changes to the eye may be an early warning that arteries are being damaged and that patients need to lower their cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

The study was led by Dr. Gerald Liew of the Centre for Vision Research at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. The team of scientists also included faculty from the University of Melbourne and the National University of Singapore. Findings were published in the journal Heart.

Read more health news, about how scientists have successfully turned embryonic stem cells into “master” heart cells which could ultimately create healthy heart tissue for patients with heart disease.

Photo credit: K. Viswanath / Community Eye Health Journal

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