Buchanan Optometrists

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Eye test that could spot your risk of stroke

This week a client showed me an interesting report in the Daily Mail entitled ‘Eye test that could spot your risk of stroke’

The report highlights the importance of digital photography which allows us to better examine the retinal blood vessels at the back of your eyes. Whilst the report implies this is a new technique, (and it is for most opticians) we have been identifying stroke risk patients using such photography for over 10years! Let me explain how it works;
The retina inside the eye is the only part of your body where we can see your blood vessels without peeling back skin to have a look. By checking the health of these vessels it gives us a good idea of the health of the vessels elsewhere in the body that we can’t see so easily.
Photography with the advanced system that we have in practice allows us to zoom in on the blood vessels, seeing details as small as one micrometer. Examining these blood vessels can often show up the signs of systemic diseases.  High blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to become more tortuous over time – a little like a hose pipe that wiggles when you increase the pressure of the water. We can also identify hardening of the blood vessels by changes in their structure and colour. Sometimes we can also see blockages or thrombosis forming which can be an important sign of potential health problems in the future.  Diabetic patients are prone to leakages due to problems with the walls of their blood vessels which can again be identified by retinal photography.
The Daily Mail report focuses on research which has found that the risk of stroke was 35% higher in those people with mild retinal vessel changes— and 137% higher in those with moderate or severe changes, even after adjusting for other stroke risk factors such as age, body mass index, smoking and blood pressure readings. Therefore if we can identify these changes early it is possible to work with GP’s to medicate and reduce the risk of future stroke.
Unfortunately it is a technique that is not 100% accurate as some people go on to have a stroke despite having perfectly healthy retinal vessels but it certainly can potentially save the lives of those identified as being at risk. We refer dozens of patients each year for such risk factors.
So next time we take photographs of your eyes you can be assured we are looking at more than just your eye health.

To find out more about our advanced eye examinations click here.