The eyes have been called the window to the soul. But did you know they're also a window into the health of your heart? That's because eyes are one of the only areas of the body where doctors have an unobstructed view of blood vessels, allowing them to get a picture of your overall health and any underlying heart conditions.
Below are four serious heart conditions that can be detected by an optometrist during a complete eye exam.
1. High Blood Pressure
Known as the silent killer because its victims often don't show any symptoms until it's too late, high blood pressure affects one out of every five Canadians, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke and even death.
The good news is that your eye doctor can detect the signs of high blood pressure by noticing subtle changes in your retina; a condition called hypertensive retinopathy. If your eye doctor sees these changes they can refer you to your primary physician for further testing and treatment.
2. Heart Inflammation
Heart inflammation (also known as endocarditis) is a condition caused when the heart develops a serious bacterial infection. While the condition is fairly rare, it can be brought on by everyday activities, such as eating and even brushing your teeth, with harmful bacteria entering the bloodstream and making its way to the heart.
The good news is that during a complete eye exam the signs of heart inflammation can be detected, with symptoms often indicated by specific patterns of broken blood vessels in the eyes that a trained optometrist can spot.
3. Temporal Arteritis
Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal arteries, the passageways that supply blood to the head and brain, become inflamed or damaged, resulting in severe pain throughout the body, difficulty breathing and a host of other symptoms. Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, researchers believe it may be linked to the body’s autoimmune response. What is known is that women and individuals over the age of 60 tend to be more prone to develop temporal arteritis. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure, but the condition can be treated to minimize symptoms.
Like other cardiovascular and heart conditions, symptoms of temporal arteritis often appear in the eyes, including blurred vision, double vision, a permanent loss of sight in one eye and drooping eyelids. If you've experienced any of these symptoms, speak with your health care professional or optometrist right away.
4. Carotid Artery Disease
This heart condition occurs when plaque (made up of fat, cholesterol and other harmful substances) builds up inside your carotid artery, blocking the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other areas of your body. The results can be devastating, leading to a heart attack, stroke and death.
Your optometrist may be able to detect carotid artery disease during an eye exam, but one symptom that may indicate the condition is the temporary loss of vision in one eye (also known as transient monocular vision loss). This vision loss generally only lasts for a few minutes, which means that many individuals may write it off as a one-time incident or something brought on by stress. If you've experienced temporary vision loss in one eye, you should book an eye exam right away with your optometrist.
For a comprehensive eye exam that can detect potential issues in your heart, book an appointment with an optometrist at an FYidoctors near you.