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Eye test could offer window into stroke risk

August 15, 2013

Strokes are among the biggest threats to healthy aging, and the most important aspect of addressing the condition is recognizing people who are at risk and helping them take the appropriate precautions. A new study from the National University of Singapore suggests that looking at a patient's eyes may hold the key to assessing their stroke risk, according to findings published in the journal Hypertension.

Researchers relied on data from more than 2,900 subjects with high blood pressure who they tracked for an average of 13 years. At the beginning of the study, each participant had a picture taken of their retina to look for damage to its blood vessels, a condition known as hypertensive retinopathy. By the time the trial was over, nearly 160 of the participants experienced a stroke, and scientists found the risk of stroke was about 35 percent higher among people who had hypertensive retinopathy.

"The retina provides information on the status of blood vessels in the brain," said lead author Dr. Mohammad Kamran Ikram. "Retinal imaging is a non-invasive and cheap way of examining the blood vessels of the retina."

While it may be too early to change the way doctors address stroke recognition and treatment, the findings underscore the important role that a healthy lifestyle for seniors can play in reducing the risk of being one of the 795,000 people who experience a stroke each year, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are many simple steps older adults can take to reduce their stroke risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, much of it has to do with managing blood pressure levels, which can be done through exercising, keeping stress levels low and maintaining a healthy weight.