The Eye-Heart Connection

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed their new year's eve celebrations. And hopefully there weren't too many cork-to-eye incidents.

You may have heard the saying "The eyes are windows to the soul". I've looked into a lot of eyes but I'm not sure how many souls I've seen. So I thought we could re-phrase that statement a little. How does "The eyes are windows to your overall systemic health" sound? I guess thats not as magical, but its probably a little more accurate.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me this picture and asked "do you know about this?"


Well, yes Harvinder, of course I do! But, thanks for asking :)

I spend a lot of time on a daily basis explaining to patients how the eyes can present signs for all sorts of systemic health issues especially those related to blood vessels. The one I stress the most is diabetes because it is seen most commonly and can have profound visual consequences. However, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anemia, and more can all be detected by changes in the blood vessels inside the eye.

In patients who have cholesterol build up in larger arteries, it is possible for small pieces of plaque to break off and travel through the blood stream into the eye (these are called emboli). The emboli can get stuck in the small blood vessels and cause a blockage.


The particular signs mentioned in the article above are called xanthelasma. These are elevated patches around the eyelids due to fatty deposits under the skin. These are usually considered to be benign but as the article mentions, recent studies have shown a link to higher rates of heart disease. To read the full New York Times article click here


Another ocular sign which is related to cholesterol is arcus senilis. This is a very common finding in older patients and is due to cholesterol deposits in the cornea (the clear dome at the front of the eye). Patients with arcus will develop a greyish ring around the outer part of the cornea. While arcus is related to cholesterol, it does not necessarily indicate high cholesterol or heart disease.

If there is ever any concern about systemic health issues affecting vision or eye health, please visit your friendly neighborhood optometrist and they will be happy to do a detailed examination :)

And as always, regular eye exams are recommended for all!