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Detecting heart disease in your eyes: Medicine’s next big thing?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. The key to survival is early detection and treatment, and doctors say the earliest warning signs may not be found by your cardiologist, but by your ophthalmologist.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. The key to survival is early detection and treatment, and doctors say the earliest warning signs may not be found by your cardiologist, but by your ophthalmologist.

No matter race or gender, heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. In fact, one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease and many of them don’t even know they have it.

The key to survival is early detection and treatment. And now, doctors say the earliest warning signs may not be found by your cardiologist but by your ophthalmologist.

Your next trip to the eye doctor may reveal much more than whether you’re nearsighted or farsighted.

“It’s like a window to our health,” said Dr. Mathieu Bakhoum, a former retina surgeon at UC San Diego Health.

“The eye is an organ, which often is the first sign of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Anthony DeMaria, a cardiologist at UC San Diego Health, said.

Cardiologists and ophthalmologists are working together to prove the eyes are truly a window to your heart.

Already used by eye docs to image the retina, now an optical coherence tomography scan, or OCT, can reveal even more.

“The near infrared signal is able to penetrate through the cornea and to the retina,” Bakhoum said.

“Which is like creating a slice of the retina and looking inside,” DeMaria said.

Decreased blood flow caused by heart disease may cause cells in the retina to die, leaving behind permanent marks called RIPLs.

“We called it RIPL because it’s wavy. And also, because it’s usually around the vessels,” Bakhoum said.

A new study revealed that individuals with RIPLs in one or both eyes had a higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

“The most exciting part of this technology is that the potential exists for a finding in the eye to indicate the presence of disease in the heart,” DeMaria said.

Enabling doctors to begin early therapy and reduce the chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

RIPLs are permanent. They do not go away over time, and they do not impact your eyesight. Although multiple RIPLs are a tale-tell sign of heart disease, not all people diagnosed with heart disease will have RIPLs.