Eye Conditions and Heart Issues: The Connections
A cliché says, “The eyes are the window to the heart.” This couldn’t be more true, as these two organs are similar and connected in several ways.
How Are They Connected?
As ophthalmologists tend to focus on eye-specific diseases, they have realized that a few of these diseases can be tied to heart health. The eyes provide a complete and actual picture of our blood vessels, and these vessels say a lot about our heart condition. It is possible to detect cardiac abnormalities through the eyes, particularly through a retina examination. A few eye and heart diseases could benefit from the same treatments.
Eye Conditions Related to Heart Issues
The following eye conditions can either be caused by or lead to a heart condition.
Glaucoma is an eye disorder that can damage the optic nerve, the nerve that connects the eye to the brain. At its worst, glaucoma may lead to vision loss or blindness.
The common type of glaucoma, the primary open-angle glaucoma, occurs when fluid pressure inside the eye increases. Meanwhile, the less common type of glaucoma, the acute-angle closure glaucoma, occurs when the drainage angle in the eye closes or becomes blocked.
Some studies indicate that heart diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes may increase the risk of developing this eye problem.
- Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. As its name suggests, this eye problem is a common complication of diabetes. It slowly damages the blood vessels of the retina and often affects both eyes.
DR increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke because diabetics may also suffer from high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, obesity, high blood sugar and lack of physical activity.
- Age-related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), affects the macula, a small portion of the retina.
There are two types of AMD: the wet AMD and the dry AMD. With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessel starts to grow under the macula. This eventually causes blood and fluid leakage, which may lead to rapid central vision loss. Dry AMD is when the macula becomes thinner as part of the aging process. This eye problem gradually causes blurred vision.
One of the potential causes of AMD is atherosclerosis or the hardening of arteries. This disease is caused by plaque build-up inside the arteries, the blood vessels responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other body parts.
Since the eyes and the heart are connected in many ways, being intentional in taking care of your heart can also benefit your eye health.
Doing cardiovascular exercises, eating right, avoiding smoking and taking vitamins are some of the many things you can do to stay away from disease and live your best life. Visiting a cardiologist for a heart check-up would be a wise option, too.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Heart Association
American Optometric Association
National Center for Biotechnology Information
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute