06/09/2012 11:51 pm ET

Eye Test Could Detect Carotid Artery Stenosis, Stroke Risk Factor: Study

In the future, predicting a person's stroke risk could be as simple as examining his or her eyes during a visit to the ophthalmologist.

Researchers from the University of Zurich have found a way to detect carotid artery stenosis -- a stroke risk factor -- in the eyes by using a test called ocular pulse amplitude, or OPA. Carotid artery stenosis occurs when arteries that go to the front region of the brain are blocked.

The study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, included 67 people who all had carotid artery stenosis. They found that the test to measure study participants' OPA scores -- calculated by measuring systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels -- accurately predicted artery blockage, with low OPA scores indicating artery blockage.

The researchers then confirmed the findings with ultrasounds, which also provided information on how severely the arteries were blocked.

Currently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening for carotid artery stenosis in the general population (when no symptoms are present), because the benefits of duplex ultrasonography -- the current method of screening for carotid artery stenosis -- don't outweigh the possible harms of getting unnecessary surgery. Researchers also noted that this kind of exam is expensive.

But "our results show that ocular pulse amplitude is a reliable, safe screening test for carotid artery stenosis," study researcher Dr. Pascal Bruno Knecht, M.D. said in a statement. "We recommend further study to confirm the value of using OPA to detect and assess the severity of CAS and to define its use in stroke prevention."

The Cleveland Clinic noted that risk factors for carotid artery stenosis include having a family history of atherosclerosis, smoking, having high blood pressure or diabetes, being obese, not exercising, having high cholesterol and being older. But addressing the changeable risk factors can help to reduce risk of the condition.