Detecting Heart Problems Through the Eyes

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Your windows to the soul can provide physicians with a unique look at your overall health. In this Healthcast, we have the report on this link between the eyes and underlying medical problems.

When Jaie LaFleur tagged along to an eye appointment with her husband three weeks ago, she had no idea that she had issues of her own.  "They were examining his eyes and he was reading the eye chart and when he finished, I said, 'boy you did better than me, because there's a blank spot, there's a crescent shape in the eye chart that I can't read the letters," says Jaie.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Jon Yokubaitis instantly picked up on this comment and moved his attention to Jaie.  "You can see the blood vessels here," says Dr. Yokubaitis, :and her optic nerve and normally the retina has this sort-of orange sheen that you see here, but right here there is this abnormality - this sort of grayish, opaque area."

The eyes are the only place in the body where we can directly visualize blood vessels. If there is an abnormality in the look of the blood vessels, physicians can oftentimes identify internal medical problems.  "Diabetes, high blood pressure, certain types of circulation problems that may involve artherosclerosis," says Dr. Yokubaitis, "or hardening of the arteries."

For Jaie, it was apparent that she had a branch retinal artery occlusion.  Dr. Yokubaitis says, "With some of these types of vascular occlusions in the eye, there's a 15 percent chance of death in the following year, chiefly because of cardiovascular disease."

Jaie was immediately directed to her cardiologist and has since made some big changes to control her blood pressure and cholesterol.  "They immediately changed my blood pressure medication, started me on a regimen of aspirin and also put me on Lipitor for cholesterol," says Jaie.

With her health now in check, Jaie says she's so grateful that her eyes alerted Dr. Yokubaitis to a problem she didn't know existed.  "It's just unbelievable," says Jaie, "I'm so grateful that they caught it."

Dr. Yokubaitis says to not let normal eye exams deceive you.  Not all health problems can be detected through the eyes and you should still have routine health screenings with your physician.