Posted on January 20 2014
By Steven Reinberg
Your eyes may provide a window into your risk for a stroke, a new study suggests.
By photographing the retina, researchers say they can predict the potential for stroke in people with high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the retina. When that happens, the condition is known as hypertensive retinopathy. Retinal imaging is a non-invasive way to view blood vessel damage and possibly assess risk for stroke, a leading killer of Americans.
"More aggressive management of blood pressure may be needed in patients with signs of retinopathy in order to reduce stroke risk," Sacco said.
"We often do not pay enough attention to even mild to moderate findings on a retina exam and should include this assessment in our global evaluation of vascular and stroke risk," he added.
The researchers rated each patient's hypertensive retinopathy as none, mild or moderate/severe based on the damage evident in the photographs.
Imaging might suggest need for more aggressive blood pressure management, experts say
During the follow-up period, 165 participants suffered a stroke. The researchers found those with mild hypertensive retinopathy had a 35 percent higher risk for stroke, while those with moderate or severe retinopathy had a 137 percent increased risk.
Retinal damage also predicted increased risk for stroke in patients taking medication to keep their blood pressure under control, the researchers found. In this group, mild hypertensive retinopathy corresponded with a 96 percent increased risk for stroke and for those with moderate to severe hypertensive retinopathy, a 198 percent increased risk.
The risk for stroke remained even after taking into account factors such as age, sex, race, cholesterol levels, smoking, blood pressure readings and body-mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight), the researchers said.
Although the researchers found an apparent link between retinal damage and increased stroke risk, the study did not prove a definitive cause-and-effect relationship.
Although these results are preliminary and need to be replicated, they suggest that retinal imaging could be a good addition to a stroke-risk evaluation, said Dr. Floyd Warren, chief of neuro-ophthalmology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"There may be a need for more aggressive blood pressure management," he said