6 Systemic Conditions Detected by an Eye Exam

Systemic Conditions

6 Systemic Conditions Detected by an Eye Exam

Eyes may be called the windows to the soul, but in most cases they are actually windows to our health. They are the only part of the body which we can see inside without surgically cutting open. Therefore whatever we find happening within the eyes, is most likely happening throughout the rest of the body. There are many systemic conditions that can be detected by examining the eyes. Here we will discuss six of the most common systemic diseases that can be diagnosed by an eye exam.

1) Type 2 Diabetes

One condition that a patient may not initially be aware that they have is diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a condition that can at first have minor symptoms but eventually wreak havoc on the body. Diabetes affects the veins in the body. Due to the size of the veins in the retina, the back of the eye, and the kidneys, those are usually the first that are affected. The cells lining the veins become damaged, making the veins ‘leaky’ and hence protein and blood can get into the surrounding ocular tissue. As the disease progresses and is left untreated, the fluid can get in between the layers of the retina and cause a retinal detachment and ultimately vision loss. During an eye exam, the optometrist can see bleeding in the back of the eye and further testing will help with the diagnosis of diabetes.

2) Hypertension

Another condition that is diagnosed by an eye exam is hypertension, or high blood pressure. Just as diabetes causes damage to the veins, hypertension damages the arteries. Most patients do not realize they suffer from this condition. Not only can this be sight-threatening but it can also be lethal and in fact it is usually called the ‘silent killer’. Just as hypertension can cause a stroke in the brain, it can also cause a stroke in the eyes. Hypertensive retinopathy can include changes to the optic nerve, as well as protein deposits and hemorrhages in the retina.

3) Hypercholesterolemia

Hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol can be diagnosed during a routine eye exam. When an optometrist takes a look at the retina, she can view the blood vessels in the back of the eye. If there are any plaques visible, there could also be plaques going up to the brain which could put the patient at high risk for a stroke. The optometrist may do further testing or refer back to the patient’s PCP for further testing to rule out any blockage leading up to the brain.

4) Rheumatoid Arthritis

Just as autoimmune disorders can affect most parts of the body, they can also affect the eyes. One of the most common autoimmune disorders to affect the eyes is rheumatoid arthritis. This usually results in uveitis, which can lead to a painful red eye which is sensitive to bright lights. This usually gets mistaken as ‘pink eye’ and should be evaluated by an optometrist for proper treatment.

5) Thyroid Eye Disease

Another autoimmune disease that affects the eyes is thyroid disease. This is usually when the thyroid does not make the right amount of hormones which keeps the body from functioning properly. Some of the symptoms of thyroid eye disease are dryness, double vision, and bulging eyes.

6) Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, MS, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheath, the insulating layer found around the spinal cord and the brain. Due to this condition and the loss of this layer, the transmission of electrical impulses slows down tremendously and the patient can experience numbness and weakness in their limbs. Ocular effects of MS include optic neuritis, which can cause pain on eye movement, blurred vision, and color vision defects.

These are only a small number of systemic conditions that can be diagnosed by an eye exam, which is why it is important to get an annual eye exam by your optometrist.

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