Eye Disease Linked to Stroke

People with retinal vein occlusion face increased risk of stroke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A disease that can cause vision loss in people of all ages also increases some patients' risk of stroke.

In a study involving more than 18,000 people, researchers compared the risk of heart attack and stroke in hospitalized patients with and without retinal vein occlusion. They found that patients affected by the retinal disease were nearly twice as likely to suffer a stroke, compared to people without the disease.

dailyRx Insight: If you have retinal vein occlusion you should talk to you doctor about your higher risk of stroke.

Retinal vein occlusion is a vascular disease - 'vascular' meaning it relates to blood vessels. The disease is a blockage of the tiny veins that carry blood away from the retina (the light sensitive part of the eye). The blockage usually occurs when a nearby artery hardens or thickens (atherosclerosis) and puts pressure on the retinal veins.

While the researchers found that stroke risk increased for patients with retinal vein occlusion, they did not find - once they adjusted for age and sex - that people with the disease had an increased risk of heart attack.

The authors conclude that both doctors and patients should be aware of the serious stroke risk, but they don't need to be worried about heart attack.

Stroke affects almost 6 million Americans every year, and it is the second leading cause of death behind Coronary artery disease and ahead of cancer. A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, either by a blood clot in the brain or from another part of the body (ischemic stroke), or by a blood vessel in the brain breaking open from high blood pressure (hemorrhagic stroke). Symptoms vary depending on which part of the brain is being affected, but commonly referenced symptoms are a sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body or face, and the inability to speak clearly or find words. Any kind of sudden change in a person's sensory or physical abilities is cause for alarm, as well as severe, splitting headache. Diagnosis and management are medical emergencies, as time from stroke onset to stroke treatment can have significant impact on recovery. Patients are usually given a host of imaging tests, such as CT scan, MRI, and angiogram (X-ray of the blood vessels). If the stroke is caught early and is being cause by a blood clot, there are medications that can be given to quickly dissolve the clot. Hemorrhagic strokes often need brain surgery to stop bleeding. In most cases, stroke causes significant disability and needs intense rehabilitation to regain lost function from the damaged brain. Patients can avoid stroke risk factors by managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, quitting smoking, and eating a healthy, low fat diet.

The study is published in Archives of Ophthalmology.  

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 15, 2011
Last Updated:
March 17, 2011