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Could an eye test determine stroke risk?

Could an eye test determine stroke risk?
4th July 2014

An eye test that costs as little as £20 could be effective in predicting which individuals are more likely to develop a stroke in the future.

Scientists at the Singapore Eye Research Institute at the National University of Singapore believe this procedure could be useful, as it involves taking photographs of the retina, which is located at the back of the eyeball. This can become adversely affected by high blood pressure - the number one risk factor for a stroke.

It is believed those who experience this damage to their retina - known as hypertensive retinopathy - have a heightened chance of having a stroke.

In the test, optometrists take a picture of the retina once eye drops that make the pupils expand have been administered. This allows the back of the eye to be seen more easily by the special camera. It is currently used by the NHS to see if diabetes causes damage to blood vessels, but it is now hoped it can be more widespread. 

Scientists studied the retinal pictures of nearly 3,000 participants who had high blood pressure but hadn't experienced a stroke. 

They were monitored for the next 13 years and 146 of them developed a stroke. It transpired the risk of having one was 35 per cent higher in the individuals who had mild hypertensive retinopathy. Furthermore, it was significantly heightened (137 per cent) for those with moderate or severe bouts of this damage to the retina, even once‚Äč risk factors were accounted for, such as smoking and age. 

Study author Dr Mohammad Kamran Ikram said this technology is a "non-invasive and cheap" method to analyse the retina's blood vessels. 

Dr Clare Walton from the Stroke Association said that while the results were encouraging, further research is necessitated before any changes are undertaken to how the risk of stroke is measured. 

A stroke takes place when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. While the majority of those affected are over 65, even babies and children are susceptible. 

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