They say that the eyes are the window to your soul, but did you know they are also a window to your overall health? Signs of many health conditions including those associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke can be seen with an eye exam. The retina, or the back of your eye, is the only place in your body where your blood vessels and nerves can be seen without needing to cut you open! This makes regular eye examinations essential in detecting important medical issues in their very early stages! Some of the health conditions that can be detected during an eye exam include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
An eye exam may just save your life in this case! Everything from brain tumours to metastases in the eye from breast and lung cancers to leukaemia can be detected by an eye test. Patients will often be unaware of the cancer unless it is affecting their centre of vision, otherwise it may go undetected for a critical period of time which will likely influence the overall prognosis.
One of the very first signs of Type 2 Diabetes (before any symptoms have arisen!) is small amounts of bleeding in the retina.1 This is a sign of diabetic retinopathy, one of the most leading causes of vision loss in people with diabetes. If left untreated, blindness can result, however the outcome is greatly improved if the condition is caught early and successfully managed. When diabetic retinopathy is detected in the early stages, lifestyle changes such as weight management, exercise and diet control can prevent further damage to the eye and subsequently, vision.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure often causes weakening and narrowing of the arteries, characteristic changes that can be seen by an optometrist during your eye exam. Multiple studies2,3 have found a strong association between heart disease and narrowing of the retinal blood vessels, which adds further credence to the importance of regular routine eye exams.
Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) can be a harbinger of MS which is a degenerative disease of the nervous system (it can also be the result of an infection or other causes too).4 Optic neuritis occurs in 75 percent of people with MS and is the first sign of the disease in up to 25 percent of cases.
Approximately one quarter of all people with rheumatoid arthritis have problems with their eyes – dry eye being to most common issue.5 Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease with autoimmune links that affects the small joints of in the hands and feet. Dry eye is often associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Most people don’t realize that by visiting their optometrist for an eye examination, and importantly, having their ocular health assessed, signs of many health conditions can detected. Once detected, these health conditions can then be actively treated and managed to ensure better prognosis and overall outcome for the patient.