A simple eye test could be used to predict a patient’s risk of a stroke years before it happens.
The test involves looking for tiny tissue changes in the retina — the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye which dispatches incoming images to the brain for processing.
New research, based on the eye scans of nearly 50,000 people, shows an individual’s risk of having a stroke can be calculated using the ‘retina age gap’.
This is the difference between a patient’s actual age and the age of their retina, judged by the health of the blood vessels and tissue in the area. Those whose retina appeared older than their actual age were up to 2.3 times more likely to have a stroke in the next six years, reported the journal BMC Medicine.
Around 100,000 people a year in the UK have a stroke — a third of these die, while two-thirds of survivors leave hospital with a disability, according to the Stroke Association.
A simple eye test could be used to predict a patient’s risk of a stroke years before it happens
The test involves looking for tiny tissue changes in the retina — the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye which dispatches incoming images to the brain for processing
Around 85 per cent of strokes are ischaemic, where a blood clot blocks blood supply to the brain. Haemorrhagic strokes, which account for the remainder, are where a weakened vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain, causing damage.
The main risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
If doctors were able to identify those most at risk at an early stage, they could prescribe lifestyle changes or medication to address risk factors.
For the latest study, researchers at Melbourne University in Australia, Guangdong Academy of Medical Sciences in China, and other centres, gathered data from 46,969 people on their lifestyle — such as smoking and drinking — along with detailed scan images of their retinas, similar to those done by High Street opticians.
They analysed the results using artificial intelligence — where computers are programmed to learn from examining large amounts of data. During the following six years, nearly 300 of the men and women had a stroke. The researchers found that a one-year increase in the biological age of the retina, compared with the patient’s real age, increased the risk of stroke by 5 per cent. Those with the biggest age gap were 2.3 times more likely to have a stroke.
The researchers said retinal scans have ‘enormous potential’ as a means of screening large numbers of people for stroke risk. They said it’s also fast (taking just minutes to complete), cheap, non-invasive and it may even be possible to incorporate the technology into a smartphone for patients to use at home.
The theory is that the state of the retina mirrors the ageing of the brain’s blood vessels and therefore the risk of stroke.
Commenting on the research, Gwyn Williams, a consultant ophthalmologist at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, said: ‘The rise of artificial intelligence and eye imaging is one of the most exciting developments in medicine. This powerful technology means it might be possible to predict stroke risks years or even decades in advance, when a patient is healthy and happy.’
Researchers said retinal scans have ‘enormous potential’ as a means of screening large numbers of people for stroke risk
meanwhile women who’ve had pre-eclampsia may be 40 per cent more likely to experience a stroke later and are 60 per cent more at risk of heart disease over the next 50 years, according to a study in the journal BMJ Open.
The pregnancy-related condition can cause high blood pressure. In a study involving 120,000 women — including 31,000 who’d been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia when pregnant — doctors at Helsinki University Hospital in Finland concluded: ‘Women with a history of pre-eclampsia should be screened and treated for cardiovascular risk factors.’
Many of the risk factors for pre-eclampsia are the same as those linked to high blood pressure and heart disease: obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.
A lack of sexual interest is linked to a higher risk of early death in men
A lack of sexual interest is linked to a higher risk of early death in men, reports a study in the journal PLoS One.
Data from more than 20,000 people showed that deaths from cancer and all causes were higher in men who reported a lack of sexual interest (there was no such link for women).
If ‘sexual interest is related to positive psychological factors, [its] absence may affect inflammatory, neuroendocrine and immune responses’, researchers said.