The eyes have it for high blood pressure clues



When Dr. William White shines a bright light in his patient’s eye, he’s looking for more than just vision problems.

He’s searching for clues indicating the effects of high blood pressure, or hypertension, and what he finds could help prevent heart attacks, strokes and other serious health problems far beyond the eye.

“We can see changes due to vascular conditions caused by diabetes or hypertension,” said White, an optometrist with Baylor Scott & White Health in Temple, Texas. “The blood vessels in the retina can become a little more stiff and hardened. They’ll push on each other and cross, like two hoses in a confined space.

“When it gets really bad, we’ll see some of the blood vessels start to leak, we’ll see some hemorrhaging. And that can cause a whole range of vision issues.”

Vision symptoms may not show up for years. But ultimately, high blood pressure can result in hypertensive retinopathy, blood vessel damage causing blurred vision or loss of sight; choroidopathy, a buildup of fluid under the retina that can distort or impair vision; or optic neuropathy, a blood flow blockage that can kill nerve cells and cause vision loss.

Similarly, high blood pressure may not reveal itself for decades before causing a heart attack or stroke, which earns its grim description as the “silent killer.”

That is why detecting high blood pressure early — and treating it with diet, exercise and medication — is crucial, and why White says eye doctors are on the front lines of the battle.

“Sometimes people will say, ‘I’m just here to get my glasses. Why are you checking my blood pressure?’” he said. “We try to inform them about the unique opportunity we have to look at these blood vessels in the eye.”

A 2013 study reported in the journal Hypertension underscored the point. Researchers checked about 2,900 patients with high blood pressure for hypertensive retinopathy, then tracked them for an average of 13 years. They found that those with a mild form of the condition had a 35 percent greater risk of stroke. That increased risk leaped to 137 percent for those with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy.

“You’re not just a pair of eyeballs walking into an exam room,” he said. “We have to look at the entire person and the whole picture. These are things that can impact their lives significantly, and we have a responsibility for their overall health.”

But doesn’t every medical checkup start with a blood pressure check? And doesn’t every pharmacy have a machine to measure it yourself?

White said many people would be surprised how many of his patients rarely see another doctor, or if they do, don’t always follow medical advice or don’t take their blood pressure medication.

“Some people don’t go for a routine checkup every year,” he said. “They tell me, ‘Look, I just don’t like going to the doctor.’ But their eyes are a problem, so they’ll come to us.”

Knowing the risks of high blood pressure, White said, keeps him vigilant.

“It’s so important because of the silent nature of this problem,” he said. “People can feel absolutely fine, but high blood pressure has a cumulative effect. If it’s uncontrolled over years, it’s going to cause damage later in life.”

- Advertisement -

This link is provided for convenience only and is not an endorsement or recommendation of either the linked-to entity or any product or service.



 

Stroke Connection. Download the free app today.


 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Departments

Stroke Notes

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!