How Is Your Eye Health Connected to Heart Disease?

The eyes are more than a window to the soul — they’re also a window into heart health! This is thanks to the system of blood vessels located behind the eyes. With comprehensive eye exams, optometrists are able to examine these blood vessels for valuable insights into heart health.eye health and coronary disease

Your eyes can act as an indicator of underlying heart issues such as high blood pressure and blocked arteries. They can also help spot diabetes, which can lead to heart problems if left untreated. Comprehensive eye exams can identify these problems early on and help you get the treatment you need before the condition worsens.

Eye Health and Heart Disease

Optometrists can gauge your heart health by examining the blood vessels in your eyes during a comprehensive eye exam. During the exam, they’re able to check the blood vessels in the back of your eye, also known as the retina vasculature

While they may seem far away from the heart, these vessels are actually more closely connected to them than you may think. This allows our optometrists to spot any heart-related health problems with just an eye exam! By evaluating your eye health, your optometrist can check for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Blocked arteries

Eye exams are about much more than making sure your eyewear prescription is up to date. They’re also an essential part of any healthcare regimen.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood against the artery wall is too high. Also known as hypertension, this condition can lead to all sorts of problems for your overall health. In the case of your eyes, it can result in:

  • Blurred vision
  • Blood clots
  • Swelling
  • Nerve damage
  • Bleeding in the eye

It’s even possible to have a stroke in the retina of your eye, resulting in complete vision loss.

You can have high blood pressure without even realizing it. This is because people with the condition rarely exhibit any physical symptoms. Despite that, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease or even stroke. By getting regular comprehensive eye exams, you have a much better chance of catching high blood pressure before reaching that point.


Diabetes is another serious health condition that is often found during eye exams. While not a form of heart disease itself, diabetes can lead to heart disease and other cardiovascular issues if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Diabetes is a “slow onset” disease, meaning that it can take a long time for a patient to exhibit any symptoms. While you may not be showing any physical signs of the disease, there are underlying symptoms that medical professionals can easily spot.

Diabetes comes in two types:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes prevents the body from effectively using insulin to regulate its own blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes means that your body can’t produce enough insulin on its own, if any at all. Failure to manage diabetes can have a dangerously negative impact on both your overall health and vision.

One of the biggest dangers for your eyes is diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when the blood vessels in your eyes begin to leak and your body naturally creates new ones. The problem is that these new blood vessels aren’t as stable as the previous ones. If left untreated, it can eventually lead to blindness.

Another major issue is glaucoma. This is the increased pressure within the eye that results in damage to your optic nerve. If left untreated, you can experience decreased peripheral vision or even blindness. Glaucoma develops with no signs or symptoms during its early stages, earning it the nickname, “the Silent Theif of Sight.”

Fortunately, optometrists are well-equipped to catch any signs of diabetes during eye exams. Like with high blood pressure, this by looking at the small blood vessels located in the eyes. Once the signs of diabetes have been established, they can help you on the path to getting the treatment you need.

Blocked Arteries

An arterial embolism in the eye can indicate a serious problem in the lower parts of the body. For instance, it could signal that you have plaque in your carotid artery, which is the primary way your body pumps blood to the head and neck. It could also indicate a problem with your heart. 

Arterial embolisms form when an embolus becomes stuck in a small blood vessel organ after traveling through the blood system. An embolus could be a blood clot, fatty deposit, air bubble, or anything else that obstructs blood flow. An optometrist can spot these obstructions once they’ve made it to the eye and help direct you toward the medical attention that you need.

If left untreated, blocked arteries can result in:

  • Stroke
  • Blindness
  • Tissue damage

In worst-case scenarios, blocked arteries can even result in death. With comprehensive eye exams, your optometrist is able to spot these abnormalities early on.

The Importance of Comprehensive Eye Exams

Comprehensive eye exams are an essential part of your healthcare regimen, but not nearly enough people get them as early as they should. A 2020 survey conducted by the American Optometric Association revealed that half of adults between the ages of 23 and 38 don’t think they need one if their vision is fine. 

Just like a regular checkup at your doctor’s office, these exams provide insight into your health in ways that you couldn’t do on your own. With a comprehensive eye exam, our optometrists can also check for:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Dry eyes

These eye exams are one of the few ways that optometrists are able to see and evaluate blood vessels at the back of the eye. While other methods exist, these exams are much less invasive and don’t require an uncomfortable medical setting.

Your eyes do more than help you see. They can also act as indicators of oncoming heart diseases that you may not be aware of such as high blood pressure, blocked arteries, and diabetes which can lead to heart disease. Our optometrists can administer a comprehensive eye exam to view the blood vessels behind the eyes for any problems.

Are you concerned about the connection between eye health and heart disease? Contact us today to schedule your comprehensive eye exam.

Hardin Valley Eyecare & Optical has been serving Knoxville since 2009. Dr. Travis Thompson and Dr. Catherine Abbott specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide array of eye diseases, conditions, and problems and are committed to improving the quality of life in the Knoxville community through enhanced vision. Located at 10904 Spring Bluff Way, you can schedule an appointment online or give us a call at (865) 888-0892.

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Dr. Thompson was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. His family has lived in the Hardin Valley area since 1998, and he graduated from Karns High School in 2004. Dr. Thompson runs Hardin Valley Eyecare & Optical alongside his wife, Dr. Catherine Abbott.

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"Dr. Thompson is super professional, and has some of the best 'bedside manner' that I have ever witnessed from any doctor. His staff was very helpful in assisting me with picking out regular frames and sunglasses. I’d happily recommend Dr. Thompson to anyone looking for a eye doctor."
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