The Heart-Eye Link: How Cardiovascular Health Affects Vision

Posted by: Missouri Eye Institute in Blog on March 20, 2023

The eyes are not just a window to the soul, they are often a window to the heart.

Your heart is instrumental in supplying oxygen and vital nutrients via arteries, veins, vessels and the tiniest capillaries to every part of your body. Diseases that hinder this process – or damage the structures that carry it out – will also wreak havoc on any part of the body that relies on circulation. This includes the arteries and delicate blood vessels of the eye.

In fact, your ophthalmologist may be the first to spot the early warning signs of heart disease. That’s because the eye is the only place in the body where blood vessels can be seen in action in real time without an invasive procedure.

But that’s not the only connection between your heart and your eyes: Your cardiovascular health can have a huge effect on your eye health in a number of ways.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

There have been a number of studies suggesting a link between cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration, particularly between atherosclerosis and “dry” AMD. In other words, people with a build-up of cholesterol in the arteries of the heart – known as hardening of the arteries – are far more prone to macular degeneration than those with perfectly healthy hearts.

Some research has even suggested that atherosclerosis in the heart may lead to the same type of cholesterol build-up in the retina, thus increasing the risk of AMD. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible vision loss in adults aged 65 and older.


A 2021 analysis of more than 2,500 eyes showed a strong link between heart disease and high intraocular pressure, or glaucoma. The study, published by Ophthalmology Science, concluded that heart disease significantly increases the risk of glaucoma, which is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults.

Retinal artery occlusions and vein occlusions

Retinal artery occlusions and retinal vein occlusions are when an artery or vein in the eye becomes blocked, either with cholesterol plaque, calcium or a blood clot. The first sign of an occlusion may be a sudden loss of vision or visual disturbance in one eye. Individuals with high cholesterol and other cardiovascular diseases are much more prone to occlusions.

Hypertensive retinopathy

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a condition called hypertensive retinopathy, or damage to the retina. Blurry vision, vision loss and even bleeding in the eye are common symptoms of hypertensive retinopathy. 

A similar condition, hypertensive optic neuropathy, occurs when blood flow to the optic nerve becomes damaged or blocked. This prevents the optic nerve from relaying signals from the retina to the brain, resulting in vision loss.

While an eye doctor cannot diagnose heart disease through an eye exam, they can screen you for these and other conditions that cause blindness, before you start experiencing serious symptoms.

Missouri Eye Institute has helped thousands of patients attain freedom from glasses and contact lenses. Contact us at (800) 383-3831 to schedule a thorough eye exam or visit to learn more about our services.


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