It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul, but did you know that they also provide valuable insight into your overall health? This is particularly true for problems involving the cardiovascular system. In fact, your ophthalmologist may be the first doctor to detect a serious heart-related condition.
You may not feel physical symptoms when your heart health is declining, but your eyes will exhibit certain signs when something is amiss. This evidence often appears in the retinal vasculature, an arrangement of blood vessels located at the back of the eye. Keep reading to learn more about the heart-eye connection and what symptoms warrant making an appointment at Allied Eye.
Conditions That Cause Vascular Changes in the Eye:
High Blood Pressure
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can damage the blood supply to the eyes. Your ophthalmologist can easily see evidence of this condition by comparing the size of your retinal arteries and veins. Sustained, elevated force of blood against vessel walls can also cause small blood clots in the eye.
Hypertensive retinopathy is just one way that high blood pressure can harm your eyes. Choroidopathy is a buildup of fluid under the retina that can also cause vision distortion or loss. Optic neuropathy is another condition linked to high blood pressure. With this condition, the blood flow blockage causes vision loss by killing nerve cells in the eye.
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, happens when plaque builds up inside an artery and causes a partial or complete blockage. Plaque is a waxy substance made of cholesterol, calcium and fat. Small fragments can break loose and lodge in the tiny arteries inside the retina, blocking blood flow and causing temporary loss of vision.
As the name indicates, hardening of the arteries makes them less flexible. This stiffness can lead to areas of weakness in the blood vessel walls and contribute to developing aneurysms that can affect your vision.
A cerebral aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes weakened and bulges out. The most common type is called a “berry aneurysm” and may be anywhere from a few millimeters to over a centimeter wide. If the ballooned area ruptures, it is a medical emergency.
Unlike most cardiac conditions that affect the eyes, cerebral aneurysm can cause eye pain. Other symptoms include severe headache, double vision, loss of vision and neck pain or stiffness. Cerebral aneurysm can be caused by any condition that weakens blood vessels, including atherosclerosis, hypertension, trauma or infection.
Wet Macular Degeneration
This condition is usually related to age, but can also be caused by uncontrolled diabetes. The macula is a part of the retina responsible for central vision. While dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) is relatively common, wet AMD is a more serious problem that causes loss of vision in your direct line of sight. It happens when abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and leak, causing scars on the macula. As with other heart-related eye conditions, you can reduce your risk of developing wet AMD by eating a healthy diet, exercising, losing excess weight and not smoking.
Although diabetes is a disorder of the endocrine system, it commonly leads to serious issues with the cardiovascular system. If Dr. Matzkin notices problems in the small blood vessels inside the eye, he may suspect diabetic retinopathy if you have diabetes or exhibit diabetic risk factors.
Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels that can make tiny blood vessels inside the eye leak, which leads to retinal swelling or edema. These damaged blood vessels can close off entirely, and lead to blindness. Keeping blood sugar and A1c levels under control can help you reduce the risk of developing blood vessel damage and diabetic retinopathy. Note that diabetics are also more likely to develop non-vascular eye conditions, including cataracts and glaucoma. If you have diabetes, you should be diligent about keeping your appointments at Allied Eye and never skipping follow-up exams recommended by Dr. Matzkin.
Symptoms That May Indicate a Heart-Eye Problem
Although many cardiac conditions cause few or no symptoms, especially in the early stages, some heart problems will announce themselves through the eyes. If you notice any of these signs and symptoms, call us for an appointment:
- Blurred vision that comes and goes
- Sudden blindness
- Any temporary, painless loss of vision
- Seeing floaters or spots
- Eye pain
- Double vision
- Poor night vision
- Seeing dark or blank areas in your field of vision