08/13/2013 06:04 pm ET

Eyes Could Reveal Stroke Risk, Study Finds


Are you at risk for a stroke? The answer could be in your eyes.

Doctors may soon be able to determine risk just by peeking at the layer of light-sensitive cells in the back of your eyeball, also known as the retina. A new study in the journal Hypertension shows an association between hypertensive retinopathy -- a condition caused by high blood pressure, where the retina becomes damaged -- and stroke risk.

That's because "the retina provides information on the status of blood vessels in the brain," study researcher Mohammad Kamran Ikram, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Singapore Eye Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, said in a statement. "Retinal imaging is a non-invasive and cheap way of examining the blood vessels of the retina."

Researchers analyzed first-time strokes that occurred over a 13-year period among 2,907 people with high blood pressure. At the beginning of the study, all the participants had photographs taken of their retinas so that researchers could see if they had hypertensive retinopathy.

At the end of the study period, 146 of the participants had experienced a blood-clot-related stroke, while 15 experienced a brain-bleed-related stroke.

After accounting for other known risk factors, researchers found that people who had mild hypertensive retinopathy had a 35 percent higher risk for stroke, and people with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy had a 137 percent higher risk for stroke. Plus, even people who were on blood pressure medication and had good control of their condition had a higher risk for blood clot if they had hypertensive retinopathy.

However, researchers cautioned that it's too soon to actually employe retinal imaging to determine a person's stroke risk. But still, this isn't the first time it's been suggested that the eyes could give clues to a person's stroke risk. A small study published in the journal Ophthalmology last year showed that using ocular pulse amplitude -- a test that can be completed during a visit to the ophthalmologist -- can help to detect the stroke risk factor carotid artery stenosis.



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