How much do your eyes tell about your stroke risk?

In a way, eyes are a reverse two-way mirror. The majority of the time, we are using them to look out into the world to see what is going on and consume that information. Sight is one of our five senses to help us understand our surroundings and how to respond. Our eyes can also help us look inward to see and understand what is going on with our health. Researchers are using that information to better determine our stroke risk.

“The retina provides information on the status of blood vessels in the brain,” said lead author and researcher Mohammad Kamran Ikram, M.D., Ph.D., in an article discussing a recent study examining the link between hypertensive retinopathy and stroke risk. This is of particular interest to patients with high blood pressure and providers to understand their individualized risk, given more data to determine that risk. They found patients with mild hypertensive retinopathy had a 35 percent increased risk for stroke and patients with moderate to severe hypertensive retinopathy had a substantial 137 percent increased risk.

Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Brandon Cavanaugh says having another piece of the puzzle identified better determines how health care providers should respond to hypertensive patients. “All people with untreated high blood pressure are at risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and retina (eye) damage,” he says. “It is extremely important that you get your blood pressure checked several times a year.  If you have high blood pressure, you need to see a cardiologist to ensure you are screened aggressively for cardiovascular disease.”

For patients managing hypertension through medication therapies, researchers found they still had a noticeable risk for developing a blood clot – 96 percent higher risk with mild hypertensive retinopathy and 198 percent higher risk with moderate to severe hypertensive retinopathy. Researchers will continue to study this connection further before recommending changes in clinical practice.

Dr. Cavanaugh advises hypertensive patients to also have their eyes evaluated. “You also need to be evaluated by an eye doctor so he or she can dilate your eyes to make sure there is no damage,” he says.

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