According to a new study from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology on November 17, in patients with a specific kind of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the main factor behind blindness in the US, are also highly likely to have advanced heart valve disease, carotid artery disease associated with some types of strokes, or underlying heart damage due to heart failure and heart attacks. The outcomes may result in enhanced screening to protect vision, identify undiagnosed heart disease, and prevent harmful heart incidences.
Lead author R. Theodore Smith, MD, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said, "For the first time, we have been able to connect these specific high-risk cardiovascular diseases to a specific form of AMD, the one with subretinal drusenoid deposits (SDDs)."
"This study is the first strong link between the leading cause of blindness, AMD, and heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. Furthermore, we also have strong evidence for what actually happens: the blood supply to the eye is directly diminished by these diseases, either by heart damage that diminishes blood supply throughout the body or from a blocked carotid artery that directly impedes blood flow to the eye. A poor blood supply can cause damage to any part of the body, and with these specific diseases, the destroyed retina and leftover SDDs are that damage. Retinal damage means vision loss, and can lead to blindness."
Co-investigator Richard B. Rosen, MD, Chief of the Retina Service for the Mount Sinai Health System, said, "This work demonstrates the fact that ophthalmologists may be the first physicians to detect systemic disease, especially in asymptomatic patients. Detecting SDDs in the retina should trigger a referral to the individual's primary care provider, especially if no previous cardiologist has been involved. It could prevent a life-threatening cardiac event."
Jagat Narula, MD, PhD, Director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Program at the Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said, "This study has opened the door to further productive multidisciplinary collaboration between the Ophthalmology, Cardiology and Neurology services."