Can Your Heart Affect Your Eye Health?
Heart health affects all aspects of your body’s organs. This includes your heart.
Symptoms of cardiovascular problems include chest pain, shortness of breath, and high blood pressure. But it can also cause fatigue, dental issues, and vision problems.
There are even instances in which an eye exam reveals cardiovascular disease. This is why it’s important to monitor your cardiovascular and vision health.
Cardiovascular health issues interfere with the amount of blood that reaches the eyes. When your eyes do not receive enough oxygenated blood, it leads to a variety of signs and symptoms.
These issues might not appear to be linked to heart health. But in many cases, cardiovascular health is the root cause of health problems in other parts of your body.
Eye Health Risks Associated with Poor Heart Health
Poor heart health causes decreased blood flow to the eyes. High blood pressure damages the blood vessels in the eyes.
These issues can lead to vision and eye health problems such as:
Vision Changes Due to Stroke
Stroke is a common cause of vision loss. A variety of vision issues are linked to stroke:
1. Visual Field Loss
Strokes trigger the development of brain lesions. When a lesion involves the optic nerve, it causes hemianopia or other visual field loss. It can affect several areas in both eyes and cause problems with vision.
Management of this condition usually includes prism lenses, scanning training, and a device that makes reading easier.
2. Spatial Inattention
Spatial inattention happens when someone neglects the side of their body affected by a stroke.
For example, some people tend to avoid chewing on their left side. In these cases, the brain struggles to process information from the affected side. This can result in favoring one eye over the other.
Rehabilitation and therapy are available to help improve this condition.
3. Seeing Double
Double vision causes loss of depth perception. Some people wear an eye patch after a stroke, but this only reduces how much information the brain has to process and doesn’t fix the problem.
4. Visual Midline Shift
This condition causes the patient to perceive their center of balance as off to the side. Managing or resolving the issue involves balancing activities and special prism glasses (called yoked prisms) that affect spatial perception and body posture.
5. Oculomotor Dysfunction
Oculomotor dysfunction refers to the inability of the eyes to track or move smoothly between objects. It leads to problems with reading and can affect walking and other movements. It rarely improves, even with therapy and rehabilitation.
6. Retinal Artery Occlusion
This occurs when there is a blockage of blood flow to the retina caused by a blood clot or buildup of cholesterol in an artery. Sometimes this condition is called an “eye stroke.” Symptoms include vision floaters, pain, and pressure, and it might lead to vision loss.
Increased Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration and cardiovascular disease share many similar risk factors.
Some studies suggest that poor cardiovascular health may contribute to the development of age-related macular degeneration.
Increased Risk of Glaucoma
Glaucoma causes pain or pressure in the eye that, left untreated, leads to optic nerve damage and vision loss.
A potential complication of high blood pressure, the condition damages the retina and causes blurred vision, headaches, and loss of vision.
You can reduce your risk of hypertensive retinopathy by:
- Losing weight
- Leading a more active lifestyle
- Reducing sodium in your diet
- Managing stress
- Reducing your risk of diabetes
- Reducing alcohol intake
Signs of Cardiovascular Disease in the Eyes
Several eye health issues indicate a problem with cardiovascular health. For example:
- Changes in the eye’s blood vessels, including decreasing or increasing in size. There might also be swelling at the base of the optic nerve. These changes are visible during an eye exam.
- Cholesterol deposits around the eyes, which indicate an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol levels cause yellowish, fatty deposits throughout the body, including in the corners and on the upper and lower eyelids.
- Transient vision loss, which is temporary bouts of blindness caused by a sudden and brief constriction of blood vessels in the eyes. This most commonly occurs during a transient ischemic stroke (TIA) or mini-stroke, which happens when blood flow to a specific part of the brain stops.
- Spots on the retina, which are also called cotton wool spots and exudates
- Bleeding at the back of the eyes
- Swelling of the optic nerve and macula
If you or your eye doctor notice any of these signs during an eye exam, it’s important to seek medical attention from a heart health doctor or cardiologist.
Tips for Keeping Your Heart and Eyes Healthy
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular and related eye health problems, including:
- Carefully monitor and manage high blood pressure
- Eat a low-sodium diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit the consumption of saturated and trans fats
- Learn how to manage stress
- Increase the amount of fiber in your diet
- Understand your genetic risk of heart disease
- Get regular eye exams
- Learn what eye health problems are linked to cardiovascular health
In addition to eating a generally healthy diet, it’s important to include foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA.
One study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science found that DHA, one of three forms of omega-3 fatty acids and the substance that makes up about 30% of brain matter, prevented age-related vision loss in lab mice.1
Cardiovascular health affects your eye health long before an event like a heart attack or stroke occurs.
Heart disease, which is a chronic heart health issue, causes deterioration throughout the body. When oxygenated blood cannot reach your body’s organs, including your eyes, it’s impossible to remain in good health.
Ensuring proper blood flow and keeping your heart as strong and healthy as possible is an essential part of visual and general health.
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