The eyes are not only a window to the soul, but may also provide a view of your stroke risk.
In a study reported in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, researchers said retinal imaging may soon help doctors determine who’s more likely to have a stroke by examining the integrity of blood vessels in the brain.
"The retina provides information on the status of blood vessels in the brain," said Mohammad Kamran Ikram, M.D., an assistant professor in the Singapore Eye Research Institute, the Department of Ophthalmology and Memory Aging & Cognition Centre, at the National University of Singapore. "Retinal imaging is a non-invasive and cheap way of examining the blood vessels of the retina."
Stroke, the nation's fourth-leading cause of death and disability, is tied to high blood pressure, but doctors can’t yet predict which hypertensive patients are most likely to have a stroke. But the new study suggests an eye test could soon change that reality.
Dr. Ikram and colleagues tracked stroke rates in 2,907 patients with high blood pressure for a period of 13 years. Each patient had photographs taken of the retina — the layer of cells at the back of the eyeball — and researchers evaluated the damage to the retinal blood vessels attributed to hypertension (a condition called hypertensive retinopathy).
Over the course of the study, 146 participants experienced a stroke caused by a blood clot and 15 by bleeding in the brain. By analyzing the eye images, researchers found the risk of stroke was 35 percent higher in those with mild hypertensive retinopathy and 137 percent higher in those with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy.
Even in patients on medication, the risk of a blood clot was 96 percent higher in those with mild hypertensive retinopathy and 198 percent higher in those with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy.
"It is too early to recommend changes in clinical practice," Dr. Ikram said. "Other studies need to confirm our findings and examine whether retinal imaging can be useful in providing additional information about stroke risk in people with high blood pressure."
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study.
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