Your eyes may hold clues to stroke risk

August 12, 2013

Study Highlights:

  • Photographing the retina may help detect which high blood pressure patients are more likely to have a stroke.
  • Retinal imaging may be an inexpensive and non-invasive way to assess risk.

EMBARGOED UNTIL 3 p.m. CT/4 p.m. ET, Monday, August 12, 2013
DALLAS, Aug. 12, 2013 — Your eyes may be a window to your stroke risk.

In a study reported in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, researchers said retinal imaging may someday help assess if you’re more likely to develop a stroke — the nation’s No. 4 killer and a leading cause of disability.

“The retina provides information on the status of blood vessels in the brain,” said Mohammad Kamran Ikram, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Singapore Eye Research Institute, the Department of Ophthalmology and Memory Aging & Cognition Centre, at the National University of Singapore. “Retinal imaging is a non-invasive and cheap way of examining the blood vessels of the retina.”

Worldwide, high blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke. However, it’s still not possible to predict which high blood pressure patients are most likely to develop a stroke.

Researchers tracked stroke occurrence for an average 13 years in 2,907 patients with high blood pressure who had not previously experienced a stroke. At baseline, each had photographs taken of the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eyeball. Damage to the retinal blood vessels attributed to hypertension — called hypertensive retinopathy — evident on the photographs was scored as none, mild or moderate/severe.

During the follow-up, 146 participants experienced a stroke caused by a blood clot and 15 by bleeding in the brain.

Researchers adjusted for several stroke risk factors such as age, sex, race, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, body mass index, smoking and blood pressure readings. They found the risk of stroke was 35 percent higher in those with mild hypertensive retinopathy and 137 percent higher in those with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy.

Even in patients on medication and achieving good blood pressure control, the risk of a blood clot was 96 percent higher in those with mild hypertensive retinopathy and 198 percent higher in those with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy.

 “It is too early to recommend changes in clinical practice,” Ikram said. “Other studies need to confirm our findings and examine whether retinal imaging can be useful in providing additional information about stroke risk in people with high blood pressure.”

Co-authors are Yi-Ting Ong, B.Sc.; Tien Y. Wong, M.D., Ph.D.; Ronald Klein, M.D., M.P.H.; Barbara Klein, M.D., M.P.H.; Paul Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D.; Richey Sharrett, Dr.P.H.; and David J. Couper, Ph.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study.

For the latest heart and stroke news, follow us on Twitter: @HeartNews.

For updates and new science in Hypertension, follow @HyperAHA.

###

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association’s policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

Addtional resources, including multimedia, are available in the right column of this link: http://newsroom.heart.org/news/your-eyes-may-hold-clues-to-stroke-risk?preview=dc978fb22fbba23671ec027a72a09ad8

For Media Inquiries: (214) 706-1173
Karen Astle: (214) 706-1392; Karen.Astle@heart.org
Bridgette McNeill: (214) 706-1135; Bridgette.McNeill@heart.org
Julie Del Barto (broadcast): (214) 706-1330; Julie.DelBarto@heart.org
For Public Inquiries: (800) AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

  • Share