Researchers here note that the visible signs of vascular degeneration in the retina correlate with the risk of cardiovascular disease. The worse the state of the retina, the more likely it is that a patient will develop cardiovascular disease. Similar degenerative processes are at work throughout the vasculature, but the location of the retina allows for a cost-effective visual inspection of blood vessels using established tools.
Researchers have identified a potential new marker that shows cardiovascular disease may be present in a patient using an optical coherence tomography (OCT) scan - a non-invasive diagnostic tool commonly used in ophthalmology and optometry clinics to create images of the retina. The finding suggests it may be possible to detect heart disease during an eye examination. The research team examined lesions of the retina, the inner-most, light-sensitive layer of the eye, to determine if a cardiovascular disorder may be present.
"The eyes are a window into our health, and many diseases can manifest in the eye; cardiovascular disease is no exception. Ischemia, which is decreased blood flow caused by heart disease, can lead to inadequate blood flow to the eye and may cause cells in the retina to die, leaving behind a permanent mark. We termed this mark 'retinal ischemic perivascular lesions,' or RIPLs, and sought to determine if this finding could serve as a biomarker for cardiovascular disease."
As part of the study, the team reviewed the records of individuals who received a retinal OCT scan. From that cohort, two groups were identified after medical chart review: one consisted of 84 individuals with heart disease and the other included 76 healthy individuals as the study's control group. An increased number of RIPLs was observed in the eyes of individuals with heart disease. According to the researchers, the higher number of RIPLs in the eye, the higher the risk for cardiovascular disease. Detection of RIPLs could result in identification of cardiovascular disease that would enable early therapy and preventative measures, and potentially reduce numbers of heart attacks or strokes.