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The Link Between Vascular Health and Eye Health

The American Heart Association reports since the start of the 20th century, cardiovascular disease or CVD, has been the number one killer in North America. Almost 60% of all deaths each year are a result of CVD. This number is greater than the next seven leading causes of death combined. CVD results in 33% of all hospitalization expenditures. In the United States alone this translates into a death every minute of the day; about 600,000 deaths a year. The Centers for Disease Control reports between 50 and 60 million Americans ranging in age from 6 and older have high blood pressure, and when left untreated it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and eye disorders.

For centuries, we have referred to the eyes as the “windows to the soul”. It just so happens they can be the windows to your bodily health as well. Medical professionals and researchers know that your eyes can provide vital clues to your risk of heart disease and stroke. In many instances your eye doctor may be able to see the signs of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular and systemic conditions before you ever experience symptoms.

The eye, specifically the retina, is the only organ in the body where arteries and veins can be viewed directly. Because of this, even in the early stages of vascular disease such as high blood pressure, changes in the blood vessel appearance may be observed. Changes may include how blood vessels cross over one another, become thickened or narrowed, and/or become blocked from one vessel pressing on the other. Bleeding in the retina is also a common sign if a patient has chronic uncontrolled high blood pressure. If an artery in the eye has a plaque or is blocked, or if there is bleeding noted, blood vessels in the heart or in the brain may also be blocked or bleeding. These signs are a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Fortunately, changes in retinal blood vessels typically occur before vision is affected therefore, it is important to have your retina evaluated yearly.

At Cockrell Eyecare Center we utilize the most advanced technology available for diagnosis and management of retinal vascular disease. One of the instruments we utilize is the Optomap Retinal Exam. This instrument is one of the most sophisticated retinal imaging technologies available today. The test takes just seconds to perform and is usually done immediately prior to you seeing your doctor. The retinal image produced from the Optomap is unique in that it gives your eye doctor a much larger view (200 degrees) of the inside of your eye vs. conventional eye exam technology. Retinal blood vessels can be examined thoroughly with this technology. The image can be minified, magnified and/or isolate different areas of the retina for detailed investigation. It allows the doctor to view your retina without a continuous blinding light for what feels like forever. In addition, you have the opportunity to evaluate the findings with your doctor and see what he or she sees.

Just as the risks are similar, prevention of eye disease is similar to prevention of heart disease. When blood pressure and cholesterol are under control, the chances of eye disease due to these factors decrease significantly. Essentially, what is good for your heart is good for your eyes. Early detection of heart disease can include visiting your eye doctor annually or as recommended by your eyecare professional.

If you have any questions concerning your eye health, please contact our office in Stillwater at 405-372-1715. We also invite you to visit our website at and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eyecare Center!