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I’ve written in the past about what I called the “eye-heart connection” and I’ve also touched on how a disease such as diabetes can effect our eyes. But very recently, a friend who has been battling through some tough health issues asked me to highlight again the importance of how intricately our organs are linked to one another.

At the end of every eye exam, I spend some time going through the following image with my patients…

Optomap retinal scan image of a healthy retina

This picture shows us the inside surface of an eye, which we call the retina. The yellow circle, as labelled, is the optic nerve. This nerve is less a part of the eye and more a part of the brain that “plugs” into the eye. It is where we look for glaucoma, which is specifically an eye-related condition. But it is also where many cases of multiple sclerosis are first diagnosed.

You’ve probably guessed what all those red lines are that stretch out beautifully like branches on a tree. They are the veins and arteries that supply blood to the retina (which happens to have some of the highest oxygen demands of any tissue in the body).

But, from whence do these meandering conduits of plasma and hemoglobin arise? (pardon the brief Shakespearean fit).

The retinal vasculature actually stems directly from the blood vessels in our brain, which come directly from the heart! So it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that common systemic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can all show up in some form in the retina. In fact, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in Canada! 

Optomap retinal scan of a retina with diabetic retinopathy

Heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, autoimmune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, crohn’s, psoriasis, lupus, etc), not to mention many of medications that are used to treat these conditions can all effect our eyes in one way or another.

And, in fact, it is not unusual for a systemic condition to have its primary presentation in the eyes. I have personally seen a variety of patients who were consequently diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune disorders due to the presentation of these diseases during ocular examination. 

They say “the eyes are the windows to your soul”.

They are certainly the windows to your health.

Get well soon RS.


Written by Dr. Harbir Sian

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