Skip to main content

What do your eyes say about your overall health?

| Healthy You

Young adult getting an eye exam.

Your eyes can show signs of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.

Your eyes are the window to your health.

When PeaceHealth optometrists examine your eyes, they are looking at much more than your ability to read the bottom line of the eye chart. 

They are also taking note of clues about your overall health.

Conditions not related to vision

Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, or an autoimmune disease like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can show up in the eyes, said David Nadeau, OD, a PeaceHealth optometrist in Eugene, Oregon. 

How? The backs of the eyes contain visible blood vessels and nerves that connect to the brain and heart. Some conditions, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure, can cause damage to blood vessels in the eye.

Another example is blood specks in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. That’s a common sign of uncontrolled diabetes — the leading cause of blindness in adults. 

Dr. Nadeau points out that the retina is the only place in the entire body where living blood vessels can be viewed without cutting into the body. “During an eye exam, I can see that damage in the retina,” he said.

In some cases, eye doctors may notice signs that a patient’s condition is getting worse. At other times, they might even uncover conditions that patients didn’t know they had.

Conditions such as diabetes, high-blood pressure, thyroid disease and others can show up in the eyes.

“This is why an eye health summary is vital information for doctors monitoring patients’ cardiovascular health,” he said. A yearly eye exam is an important way of monitoring these and other conditions.

Of course, regular eye exams focus especially on testing the health of your vision. And even if you don’t have any current problems with your sight, you should still get regular eye exams, said Dr. Nadeau.

Vision-related conditions

Many eye-related conditions can develop without symptoms. This is especially true in people who are over 50. Issues like the following often start as people get older:

  • Cataracts, a natural clouding of the lens behind the pupil, can make things look cloudy or blurry. This often makes it harder to see at night.
  • Glaucoma leads to increasing damage to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. It shows no symptoms and can result in permanent vision loss.
  • Macular degeneration affects a person’s central, detail-oriented vision. Early symptoms can include sensitivity to light, blurred vision and difficulty adjusting from bright to dim light.

“When caught early, many eye conditions can be treated. The sooner we can detect a problem, the more we can do to prevent or slow vision loss,” he said.

As part of the comprehensive healthcare team at PeaceHealth, eye doctors work closely with primary care providers and other specialists to provide the best care possible.

Is it time to see your eye doctor? Your exam might show more about your health than you expect.