Disease and the Eye

How do systemic diseases affect the eye?

Atherosclerosis
This condition, which involves hardening of the arteries is often associated with hypertension. Atherosclerosis damages the blood vessels in the retina. This damage usually does not produce any symptoms in its early stages; however, it can become chronic and lead to more severe complication in the retina. Disruption of blood flow to the retina is more likely to occur in blood vessels that are atherosclerotic. Permanent disruption of blood flow can lead to permanent visual loss. Sometimes, one of the first signs of atherosclerosis will be sudden visual loss in one eye lasting just seconds or minutes.

Diabetes
Diabetic eye disease is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Diabetes can cause severe eye complications including bleeding and swelling in the retina. In severe cases it can also lead to retinal detachment. Abnormal blood vessel growth inside the eye precedes this bleeding and swelling. Changes in the blood vessels in the retina or fluctuations in vision sometimes lead to the initial diagnosis of diabetes. Additionally, people with diabetes can develop cataracts at an early age than non-diabetics. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that diabetics are checked at least once a year. The aforementioned changes in the eye that potentially may occur in diabetic, can often be asymptomatic, and thus only detected on a dilated eye examination.

Graves’ disease
Graves’ disease occurs as a result of abnormal thyroid function. The thyroid is a gland that is located in the neck and it regulates many critical bodily functions. This condition can cause protruding eyes, double vision, limitations in eye movement, and corneal disease. Severe or advanced cases may have associated optic nerve damage and decreased vision. Sometimes the eye symptoms in Graves’ disease can appear before other signs and symptoms in the body.
Hypertension
High blood pressure can damage the retinal blood vessels. It can lead to more severe complications in the retina as well as in the body. In people with high blood pressure, the extent of the damage in the eye can directly relate to damage in other parts of the body including the heart and kidneys. High blood pressure can be first diagnosed when changes in the blood vessels of the eye are found.
Lupus
The eye is prone to inflammation. Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, is a condition that can lead to long-term, chronic inflammation throughout the body. This condition is more common in women than men. Scleritis is inflammation of the white part of the eye known as the sclera. It can result from lupus and other collagen vascular diseases. It is not uncommon for this type of ocular inflammation to be the first sign of the systemic medical condition. Lupus can also be associated with dry eye. There are certain oral medications that are used to treat lupus (i.e., plaquenil) that can build up in the eye can affect vision. It is critical for patients with this condition who are treated with these types of medications to be seen twice a year for visual field testing and retinal examination.
Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis can cause eye movement problems as well as optic nerve disease. The eye movement problems can lead to double vision and occasionally droopy eyelids. Patient can also experience acute optic neuritis. This is a condition in which the patient suddenly loses vision, with or without pain. With rapid diagnosis and medical treatment, the vision loss can often be restored. Neurologic diseases such as multiple sclerosis may be first suspected when the ophthalmologist finds changes in eye movement, vision, color vision, or the function of the optic nerve.
Rheumatoid arthritis
The joints are typically affected in this chronic debilitating condition. Inflammation in the joints is the culprit of the pain and the joint deformation. The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can also occur in the eye. Uveitis, iritis, and iridocyclitis are all terms used to describe inflammation in the eye. These conditions can be painful and result in redness, increased light sensitivity, blurred vision and even glaucoma.
Sarcoidosis
This condition is a multi-organ immune system disorder that is characterized by inflammation in the lungs and eyes. A type of eye inflammation cause uveitis is the most common eye problem cause by sarcoidosis. Certain types of inflammation in the eye can be seen with this condition. Another common eye finding includes nodules on the iris (colored part of eye). can been seen in this condition. This diagnosis is usually made/confirmed after a thorough examination of the lungs and can include a lung biopsy.
Sickle-cell disease
Sickle cell disease (or sickle cell trait) can cause the development of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. It is an inherited blood disorder that can block blood circulation throughout the body. This disease primarly affects African-Americans and can sometimes lead to blindness if not detected early and treated. Some cases need to be treated with laser to stop bleeding retina.