If You Notice This in Your Eyes, Get Your Heart Checked, Experts Say


The eyes are often called "the windows to the soul," but more often they can be a window to your health. Experts say that in particular, there's one subtle change that can tip you off to a problem involving your heart. They warn that if you notice this symptom in your eyes, it could signal high cholesterol—and the younger you are, the more likely it is to be the culprit. Read on to find out which ocular symptom could spell trouble for your heart health, and when you shouldn't worry.

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Having a gray ring on your cornea can signal higher cardiovascular risk.

As you age, you may begin to notice a gray, white, or blue ring around your cornea, the clear outer layer of your eye which covers the iris. This common ocular condition is known as arcus senilis, and it's caused by a buildup of fat deposits or lipids in the body.

"As someone ages, their blood vessels widen and allow more cholesterol and other fats to build up in the eye," explains the health site Medical News Today. While in most cases, this symptom is unrelated to one's heart health, certain cases are caused by higher overall cholesterol levels, which can ultimately cause heart attack, stroke, blood clots, peripheral artery disease, and more.

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Arcus senilis becomes more common with age.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences found that arcus senilis was surprisingly common in people over the age of 40. In fact, the researchers determined that out of 500 study subjects over that age, 45 percent showed signs of the ocular condition. The rate of incidence jumped considerably in conjunction with the subjects' age: among subjects 60 and up, 70 percent had observable signs of the condition.

While anyone can develop acrus senilis (and in fact most eventually will), the American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that you're more likely to experience the condition if you are male or African American.

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If you're under 45 when you notice it, you should call your doctor.

While many people develop this symptom as a normal part of aging, experts say that there are certain circumstances in which arcus senilis should be brought to a doctor's attention.

"When arcus senilis occurs in older adults, it isn't related to high cholesterol," explains the Mayo Clinic. "However, an arc or ring around the iris sometimes occurs in younger people who have severe cases of high cholesterol and high triglycerides passed down through families (familial hyperlipidemia). In people with familial hyperlipidemia, this arc or ring typically occurs before age 45 and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease," their experts say.

In that event, your doctor will likely recommend checking you for high cholesterol, and may suggest treatment to help lower your cholesterol. Lifestyle interventions such as eating a healthy diet or increasing your levels of exercise can also help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

It's harmless to your vision.

If you do notice this ring of color around your eyes, the good news is that it won't have any effect on your vision. Unless your age puts you at increased cardiovascular risk, no treatment is necessary for this condition, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

That said, everyone should have their eyes checked regularly, with an exact frequency determined by age. The Mayo Clinic recommends that even if you have no signs of vision problems, you should see an ophthalmologist at the age of 40, when they are more likely to begin. Starting at 60, you should have your vision checked annually, or more often if you wear glasses or contact lenses, have a family history of eye disease or vision loss, have a chronic condition that puts you at greater risk of eye disease, or take medications that may have ocular side effects.

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