Your Eyes Could Be the Window to Your Heart

If you’re concerned about your heart health, you may want to book an eye exam. A non-invasive eye examination has the potential to predict a heart attack (when combined with other health markers).

Looking at the blood vessel patterns in the eyes’ retinas can help doctors better identify a person’s risk of a heart attack. Researchers can pair this information with other demographic and lifestyle factors about the individual, such as age, weight, smoking status, sex, and blood pressure.

Ana Villaplana-Velasco, a Ph.D. student at the Usher and Roslin Institutes at the University of Edinburgh says, “Strikingly, we discovered that our model was able to better classify participants with low or high MI [heart attack] risk in UK Biobank when compared with established models that only include demographic data.”

This study found that this model (including an eye exam) had the best predictive measures more than five years before a heart attack occurred.

The hope is that an eye exam, looking at the retina, could help identify those at risk for heart attacks before they happen. Currently, 60 is the average age for heart attacks, so having these exams performed over 50 would be the time to start.

The researchers involved in the study acknowledge that other conditions may have their own retinal blood vessel patterns; therefore, these findings may also prove useful in identifying other diseases.

More research is currently needed, and the study has yet to be repeated in males and females separately to see if sex plays a role in better identifying risk factors.

Cardiologist Dr. James Ware warns that the research is new and not peer-reviewed yet, but adds: “It is well recognized that the retina provides a unique opportunity to directly visualize vessels and assess vascular (heart) health. Approaches like this that use computer vision and/or machine learning to detect subtle vascular features predictive of future heart health appear promising.”

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