“Heart disease” is almost a misnomer. At the very least, the moniker tells an incomplete story about the extent to which heart health affects all other organs and functions of the body. That includes the eyes.
Think about it: Just as the arteries to and from your heart can be damaged by high pressure, cholesterol plaque and poor circulation, so too can the delicate circulatory structures of the eye. If it goes unnoticed and untreated, the damage can cause vision loss, and eventually, blindness.
Types of vision loss associated with heart disease
There are three major risk factors for heart disease — hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and diabetes. These same conditions can also cause or increase the risk of eye disease.
- Glaucoma – group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve
- Hypertensive retinopathy – damage to the retina or loss of retinal circulation
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – damage to the part of the retina called the macula, which provides clear, straight-ahead vision
- Retinal artery occlusion/retinal vein occlusion – damage or clots in the artery or small veins of the retina that can cause sudden vision loss
This is by no means a complete list of heart-related vision issues, but they are some of the leading causes of preventable blindness in adults in the United States.
Symptoms of heart-related vision problems
It is common for individuals to experience no obvious symptoms of dangerous eye diseases early on. Often, an eye doctor will notice damage to the tiny veins and nerves of the eye years before symptoms develop. This is why annual eye exams and early intervention are so important.
By the time visual symptoms do develop, there may already be irrevocable damage to the eyes and to eyesight. See an ophthalmologist for immediate diagnosis and care if you experience the following:
- Blurry vision and other vision changes
- Loss of vision in center of visual field
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Sudden blurriness in one or both eyes
- Distorted vision
- Short-term vision loss in all or part of one or both eyes
Tips to improve heart health and vision
Your eye doctor can help address some of the eye damage brought on by heart disease. However, it is up to you and your primary care doctor or specialist to work together to get you healthier overall.
A heart-healthy lifestyle will not just improve cardiovascular health; it will also decrease your risk of eye damage and vision loss. These four lifestyle changes are your most important moves:
- Put down the cigarettes. The sooner the better, but kicking the habit at any age will go a long way toward preventing cardiovascular disease and lowering the risk of vision loss.
- Clean up your diet. Avoid trans fats, and get more of the heart-healthy omega-3 fats that come from salmon, nuts, avocado and olive oil. Fill three-quarters of your plate with vegetables that are brightly colored – a reliable indication that they’re loaded with eye-healthy vitamins and nutrients.
- Get regular exercise. Thirty minutes of brisk activity each day strengthens the heart muscles, improves circulation and reduces stress. Adopting consistent healthy eating and fitness habits may also help you lose weight, lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol – each of which further reduces the risk of eye diseases.
- Get your eyes checked. Undetected heart disease can cause damage to the eyes that may take years to become symptomatic … unless you get regular eye exams. Your ophthalmologist can detect microscopic damage in the structures of the eye that signals eye disease – and can even indicate cardiovascular disease.
Want to know your risk of eye disease? Make an appointment for a thorough eye exam to ensure your vision is healthy.
Lake Lazer Eye Center offers up-front pricing, and convenient and affordable payment plans for SoftTouch LASIK and the SMILE procedure. Dr. Khambati has helped thousands of people from all over the world escape the restrictions of glasses and contacts. In the event that you’re not a candidate for vision correction, we’ll assist you with a contact lens evaluation or a selection of designer and specialty eyewear.