Heart health is linked to eye health
It’s February, the month of hearts–because of Valentine’s Day but also because it’s Heart Health Month.
So why is an eye doctor talking about heart health? Because some undetected heart health issues can be identified in the eye. And some systemic problems that contribute to heart disease may be detected in their early stages during an eye exam.
Undetected high blood pressure can cause cause permanent vision problems. The good news is that in the course of a regular eye health examination a skilled eye doctor can detect signs of systemic hypertension even before vision has been affected or the patient is aware of the condition.
There is only one place in the body where a doctor can non-invasively observe a person’s blood vessels–the eye! Dr. Olson can actually see the blood vessels in the back of the eye and view the optic nerve. Strained by high blood pressure these small capillaries may bleed or narrow. The optic nerve can also become swollen. These are signs of hypertensive retinopathy due to systemic high blood pressure. The ophthalmoscope, binocular indirect ophthalmoscope, and Optomap retinal imaging are all tools that allow Dr. Olson to see the retina so conditions and changes can be monitored and documented. But it takes his experience and expertise to evaluate what he sees and identify what is normal and what is not.
Sometimes vision loss is not due to a problem with the eye itself, but with how the brain is processing images the eye sees. One possible cause of this type of vision problem is that small strokes have occurred due to untreated high blood pressure. There are patients whose brain impairment was first detected and diagnosed by Dr. Olson in the course of a routine eye health exam.
Diabetes affects both heart health and eye health. During our comprehensive eye health exam Dr. Olson looks for blood vessels that are larger in certain spots, blocked, or hemorrhaging, new fragile blood vessels that have started growing, and scars on the retina, among other things. These are potential signs of diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans.
Here’s an excerpt from a story on the American Heart Association website: “In the summer of 1994, I was driving a truck down a familiar road and suddenly my vision went blurry. Fortunately, I knew where I was going without reading the road signs, but as soon as I returned home, I called a friend who is a nurse about my concerns. She suggested that I see an eye doctor as soon as possible. After running some eye tests the eye doctor told me to see my family doctor because I might have type 2 diabetes. I was surprised by this because no one in my family had ever been diagnosed with diabetes. I did indeed have type 2 diabetes, and I also had high blood pressure and marginally high cholesterol…”
Unfortunately by the time vision has been affected, as this man’s was, the vision loss can be irreversible. That’s the reason eye doctors recommend that everyone have regular eye health exams throughout their lifetime! While you may be seeing well, symptoms still invisible to you can exist that are red flags to Dr. Olson as he looks inside your eye during the eye health examination.
The great news is that if you have been having annual eye exams at our office and these or other conditions appear, they will likely be detected at an early stage. If you have not been in the habit of getting regular eye exams, you can start now! We are accepting new patients at this time. Just call 319.395.9534.
So besides eating smart, not smoking, and exercising, add seeing Dr. Olson regularly to the list of activities for maintaining good heart health!