A new study published in the American Heart Association Journal Hypertension suggests a correlation between retinal microvascular changes and increased stroke risk.

The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study authored by Dr. Mohammad Ikram reviewed retinal images of 1406 patient ages 50-73 between 1993 and 1995. With each participant, their level of hypertensive retinal disease was classified as A) no retinopathy (eye disease); B) mild retinopathy; or C) moderate retinopathy. After an average 13-year follow-up, researchers found a high correlation between increased hypertensive eye disease and increased risk for stroke. This increased risk occurred in spite of the fact that other risk factors were considered.

Researchers conclude: “This study suggests that the presence of these retinal microvascular changes indicates additional vascular (stroke) risk beyond that conferred by traditional cardiovascular risk factors.” Despite having good control of blood pressure, patients with hypertensive eye disease had up to four times greater risk of stroke.

So what does this mean? Let’s see how much you know:

Stroke is what leading cause of disability?

  1. 1st
  2. 3rd
  3. 5th
  4. What’s a Stroke?

Stroke is what cause of death?

  1. 1st
  2. 3rd
  3. 6th

Stroke is preventable?

  1. Always
  2. Never
  3. Sometimes

Being overweight is a risk factor for Stroke?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Having uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)…

  1. Increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack by 4-6 times.
  2. Does not affect stroke risk as it’s determined by genetics.
  3. Increases the risk but only slightly and I’m better off to stop smoking.

Eye exams can be important even if my blood pressure is under control.

  1. Yes, because patients with eye disease from hypertension have higher risk of stroke even if their blood pressure is well controlled.
  2. No, good blood pressure control means no hypertensive eye disease.
  3. I have no idea and that’s why I read Desert Health®.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death. It can be prevented by controlling risk factors. Those risk factors include high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm), uncontrolled diabetes, smoking, elevated cholesterol, alcohol consumption (greater than 2 drinks/day), existing carotid and/or coronary artery disease and being overweight (BMI>30).

 What’s the take home? Get your eyes examined and control your risk factors for stroke.

Dr. Evans is the founding owner of Evans Eye Care in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 674.8806 or online at www.evanseyecare.com.

Sources: 1) American Heart foundation; 2) Hypertension online journal August 12, 2013 “Hypertensive Retinopathy Linked to Increased Stroke Risk” Mohammad Kamran Ikram MD, Singapore Eye Research Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Singapore

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