Eye health in children can indicate high blood pressure, the main risk factor behind the development of cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published on June 29 in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).
The study says that narrowing of the tiny blood vessels in the eyes of children above 4 years of age can predict if they will develop high blood pressure.
“The prevalence of high childhood blood pressure (BP) is rising globally and has been associated with subclinical vascular impairments in children,” the researchers said.
The study was done with 262 children aged 4 to 8 years, from 2014 to 2018, in Switzerland.
“Hypertension continues as the main risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases and mortality,” Dr. Henner Hanssen, one of the study’s lead authors, said in a statement.
Hanssen, who is a professor in the department of sport, exercise, and health at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said that cardiovascular risk classification can be done in children by studying the health of the blood vessels in their eyes and by monitoring their blood pressure.
“The earlier we can provide treatment and implement lifestyle changes to reduce hypertension, the greater the benefit for these children,” Hanssen said.
The study, however, didn’t account for other variables that affect blood pressure and microvascular health, such as developmental stage, puberty status, genetic factors, and birth weight.
Previous studies have shown the connection in adults of the width of the eye blood vessels to blood pressure, but, according to AHA, this is the first time the linkage was found in children.
“We can see changes due to vascular conditions caused by diabetes or hypertension,” said White, an optometrist with Baylor Scott & White Health in Temple, Texas, according to AHA News.
“The blood vessels in the retina can become a little more stiff and hardened. They’ll push on each other and cross, like two hoses in a confined space. When it gets really bad, we’ll see some of the blood vessels start to leak, we’ll see some hemorrhaging. And that can cause a whole range of vision issues,” he said, explaining the linkage between blood pressure and eye health in adults.
Vision symptoms due to high blood pressure may not show for years in adults, but can result in hypertensive retinopathy, blood vessel damage, causing blurred vision or loss of sight; choroidopathy, a buildup of fluid under the retina that can distort or impair vision; or optic neuropathy, a blood flow blockage that can kill nerve cells and cause vision loss, according to the AHA.
“Sometimes people will say, ‘I’m just here to get my glasses. Why are you checking my blood pressure?'” White said. “We try to inform them about the unique opportunity we have to look at these blood vessels in the eye.”