Eye And Brain Health Linked: Retinopathy Associated With Memory, Thinking Problems
We know that the health of different parts of our bodies are all linked -- for example, mouth health is associated with the health of our hearts. Now, a small new study shows that eye health may be an indicator of brain health.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that people with retinopathy -- which is a condition where the retina of the eye is damaged as a result of vascular disease -- are also at an increased risk for thinking and memory problems. That's because the vascular disease that causes the retina damage may also be affecting the brain.
"Problems with the tiny blood vessels in the eye may be a sign that there are also problems with the blood vessels in the brain that can lead to cognitive problems," study researcher Mary Haan, DrPH, MPH, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement. "This could be very useful if a simple eye screening could give us an early indication that people might be at risk of problems with their brain health and functioning."
Researchers tested the memory and thinking skills of 511 women (over age 69) for up to 10 years. They also tested their eye health four years into the study, and scanned their brains eight years into the study.
By the end of the study, 39 women had retinopathy -- these women, on a whole, scored lower on the cognitive tests compared with the women without retinopathy.
The women with retinopathy also had 47 percent larger volumes of vascular damage in the brain, compared with the women without the eye condition.
Researchers noted that the women in the study with retinopathy didn't necessarily have worse vision than the women without it -- in fact, women both with and without it scored similarly on visual acuity tests.
There are a number of other health conditions that your eyes could be warning you about. For some of them, check out this slideshow:
Different Shaped Pupils
The pupils (the black circle in the centre of the eye) in normal people are usually symmetrical, the same size and react in the same way when exposed to sunlight. If one pupil is bigger or smaller than the other, there could be an underlying medical problem. Experts claim that differences in pupil size could indicate that the person is at a higher risk of having a stroke, brain or optic nerve tumour, or brain aneurysm. <strong>If you spot any changes to your pupils, raise this with your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.</strong>
Dry Eyes (Sensitive To The Light)
If your eyes are always dry and ultra sensitive to light, it could signal an immune system disorder, <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Sjogrens-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx" target="_hplink">Sjogren</a>, which impairs the glands in the eyes and mouth. The condition affects women over 40 with autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. <strong>Seek advice from your GP if this sounds like you, as artificial lubricant can be prescribed and you'll be advised to drink plenty of water.</strong> "Dry eyes are more common in women over 50 due to hormonal changes," adds Larry Benjamin from <a href="http://www.rcophth.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. </a>
If your eye is covered in a 'cloud' and your vision is impaired because of it, you may have a cataract. This causes a clouding of the lens inside the eye and can be corrected with surgery. This condition mainly occurs in older people but in younger people, it is commonly caused as a side effect of diabetes, tumours and some medication.
Although there are many things that can cause itchiness around the eyes, the most common reason could be pinpointed to an allergic reaction. The eye, and the area around it, is delicate and sensitive and more vulnerable to infections and allergies. Triggers could be anything from airborne pollens, dust or animal fur. <strong>If you suffer from red itchy eyes, try antihistamines to ease the redness, or visit your GP to organise an allergy test. </strong> If your eye and eyelids become puffy and sore, this could be a sign that you're sleep deprived. "Fluid moves around your head when you sleep and normally disperses when you wake from a good night's sleep. "However, lack of sleep causes this fluid to retain around the eye area for longer," explains Larry Benjamin from <a href="http://www.rcophth.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">The Royal College of Ophthalmologists</a>.
If your eye has a light grey ring around the cornea (the coloured circle in your eye), you may have a condition called <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arcus-senilis/AN01493" target="_hplink">arcus senilis</a>, which is often linked to high cholesterol levels and triglycerides - fatty acids found in the blood. These are linked to higher risk of heart disease and strokes, so if you spot a grey ring circling your eye, <strong>visit your GP to discuss changing your diet. </strong>
Although it's natural for eyebrows to become thinner as we age, if you notice your brows literally 'disappearing' from the outer third of the eyebrow, this could signal a thyroid dysfunction. Loss of eyebrow hair from the outer edges of your face is a common sign of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (under active thyroid). Thyroids help regulate the metabolism and thyroid hormones are vital for hair production. <strong>If in doubt, book an appointment with your GP.</strong>
"Watery eyes can indicate infection," explains Larry Benjamin from <a href="http://www.rcophth.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">The Royal College of Ophthalmologists</a>. "If the eye is watery, you've most likely got an infection caused by a virus. If it's sticky, you might have a bacterial infection." If your vision becomes blurry, this could also be the result of <a href="http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/" target="_hplink">Computer Vision Syndrome</a> (CVS), caused by eyestrain from lack of contrast on a computer screen. This makes the eyes work harder focusing on the pixels on the screen. <strong>If in doubt, speak to your employer about booking an eye test, which is free if you use visual display units (VDU) for long periods of time. </strong>
Yellow lumps, also known, as xanthelasma palpebral, which appear on your eyelids could be a warning signal that your cholesterol levels are sky high. These are fatty deposits, which clump together and live in the eyelid. These are very often mistaken for a stye. Although these are quite common, <strong>it's best to get them checked by your optician or GP, as it can sometimes be an early sign of coronary artery disease. </strong> If you spot any coloured spots on your eyelids, in particular brown spots, <strong>visit your GP immediately</strong> as it could be an early sign of skin cancer. These usually appear on the lower part of the eyelid and will look a brownish colour with tiny blood vessels.
If your eyes are always blood-shot with broken blood vessels making them look blotchy and sore, this could be a sign that you have high blood pressure. Your optician will be able to confirm this by looking at your retina (the inner part of the eye). High blood pressure causes the blood vessel in the retina to 'kink and twist', causing them to break and look red. This could increase your risk of a stroke, so <strong>raise it with your GP as soon as possible. </strong>
If the whites of your eyes have a yellow tint rather than pearly white, you may have jaundice, which is linked to various liver and gall bladder problems. A simple blood test will confirm this, so if you're in doubt, <strong>book an appointment with your GP. </strong>
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