Our Eyes Are The Windows To The Heart – Dr Yap Jun Fai, Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming, Dr Lim Yin Cheng & Dr Alan Fong

The network of blood vessels at the back of the eye is closely related to heart health.

Besides regarded as the windows to the soul, our eyes are also the window to our hearts. These two vital organs, though may not seem to be linked, share many similar features, particularly with regard to the blood vessels. 

The network of blood vessels at the back of the eye is closely related to heart health. These blood vessels are the only visible vasculature accessible in a human body without relying on an invasive method.

An eye examination with careful viewing of the inner and outer part of the eye often can reveal early signs of cardiovascular disease (which may later present acutely as a heart attack or stroke).

Based on the results of the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, three in 10 Malaysians have high blood pressure. At an early stage, high blood pressure typically has no warning symptom. Thus, many people are not aware of having high blood pressure until they develop end organ damage.

An eye doctor may be able to discover early clues by recognising changes in the eye’s blood vessels or small bleeding spots at the back of the eye. Sometimes, even a blocked artery with a blood clot leading to an impending eye stroke can be picked up by an experienced ophthalmologist.

It is estimated that two out of 10 adults in Malaysia have diabetes. High blood sugar may damage the tiny blood vessels of the eye and cause leakage of fluid into the surrounding tissue.

These conditions are known as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema respectively; if untreated, may lead to vision impairment or ultimately blindness.

Ideally, these reversible conditions should be identified before visual loss occurs. For Type 2 diabetes patients, diabetic retinopathy screening is recommended, and should be carried out annually. 

Notably, four in 10 Malaysian adults have increased total cholesterol levels, with one in four being unaware of it. Such a condition may occasionally manifest as small, yellowish soft bumps (called xanthelasma palpebrarum) around the eyelids.

These aesthetically unpleasing bumps rarely affect our vision, but they may indicate a high cholesterol problem. Individuals who have such eye plaques should get their cholesterol levels checked. 

In short, early detection and subsequent treatment of risk factors of cardiovascular disease (namely high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol) via an eye examination can reduce the risk of getting a heart attack or stroke in the near future.

In line with this year’s World Heart Day theme of “Use heart for every heart” and World Sight Day theme of “Love your eyes”, every Malaysian adult aged 40 years and above should do a medical checkup yearly with a comprehensive eye examination at the nearest medical facility.

For low-income individuals aged 40 and above, there is the PeKa B40 scheme, which offers free health screenings . 

Dr Yap Jun Fai, Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming, Dr Lim Yin Cheng are from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, and Dr Alan Fong is from the National Heart Association of Malaysia. 

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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