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What do your vision and arteries have in common? Initially, you might think not much. After all, your vision is a function of the eyes and your arteries are related to your heart, right? Well, it turns out that your arteries and vision are closely linked. While a number of conditions and injuries may cause vision loss, poor artery health may also be the culprit.

WHAT ARE ARTERIES AND WHY ARE HEALTHY ARTERIES IMPORTANT?

Next to the heart, your arteries are one of the most important parts of your cardiovascular system. As the heart beats and pumps blood throughout the body, your arteries, when functioning properly, provide the pressure to keep your blood flowing. The largest artery is the aorta in the heart, but you also have arteries in each arm, the legs, the neck, and in a number of other places throughout the body. You even have arteries that feed into the eyes. Your arteries are a crucial part of your circulatory system, ensuring that oxygen and nutrient-rich blood is delivered to other tissues and parts of the body, including your eyes.

VISION SYMPTOMS THAT INDICATE POOR ARTERIAL HEALTH

Changes in your vision may indicate a number of health problems, some of which are related directly to the eyes and others of which are related to problems in other systems of the body. The most common vision problem signaling an arterial health problem is sudden loss of vision in one eye. For many patients, this vision loss will only last for a few minutes. However, when the vision returns to normal it does not mean the problem has passed. The temporary vision loss is a warning sign and should always be taken seriously.

AMA-FUGA-WHAT? AMAUROSIS FUGAX

Amaurosis fugax is the clinical term for vision loss in one eye due to an arterial blockage. Typically, plaque from one of the carotid arteries in the neck breaks free of the artery wall, travels along the cardiovascular system, and becomes lodged in the retinal artery at the back of the eye. The vision clears when the plaque dislodges from the retinal artery. However, when the plaque is lodged in place, it prevents oxygenated blood from reaching the retina and other structures of the eye. In essence, the retina and related structures begin to suffocate. If the blockage remains in place for too long, it may cause irreversible damage to the affected eye.

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN FOR THE REST OF YOUR ARTERIES AND OVERALL HEALTH?

Although vision loss due to plaque from an artery may be temporary, it is an indicator of a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which means that the pathway of the blood through the arteries is significantly narrowed. As more and more plaque builds up in the arteries, the heart has to work much harder to keep pumping the same amount of blood throughout the body. Eventually, an artery may become completely blocked — resulting in a stroke, heart attack, or other complications. These are life-threatening emergencies. As soon as any sign of an arterial blockage is noticed, including vision loss in a single eye, you must visit your eye doctor or seek emergency department treatment immediately.

HOW CAN YOU PREVENT SUCH A PROBLEM IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Unfortunately, not every instance of an artery blockage or narrowing may be prevented. However, by monitoring your health regularly, including having regular eye examinations with your eye doctor at Silverstein Eye Centers, you may have a better chance at heading off serious illness before it happens. During your routine eye exam, your eye doctor will examine many parts of your eye as well as your vision. The classic sign of a potential artery problem, even before vision changes, is a build-up of fatty material at the back of the eye. For some patients, prevention will lie in proper diet and exercise while others may require medication and others may need surgery.

To schedule your next eye exam or to discuss how your eyes give insight into your overall health, including your cardiovascular health, call Silverstein Eye Centers today at (816) 358-3600 for the Kansas City / Independence office to schedule an eye exam. During your appointment, be sure to let your eye doctor know about any health problems you may have and about any medications, supplements, and vitamins you are taking. This information combined with a thorough examination may save more than just your vision. It may save your life!

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