Scientists find new cause of heart disease, high blood pressure shown in eyes

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Our eyes are often considered windows to our souls, but a recent study from St. George’s and other institutions suggests they can also be windows to our health, particularly our heart health.

This research reveals that by studying the blood vessels in our eyes, scientists can glean valuable insights into our risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

A New Perspective on Blood Vessels

The back of our eyes, or the retina, has numerous blood vessels whose size and shape can be easily examined through high-resolution digital images.

This accessibility makes the retina a convenient place for researchers and medical professionals to observe blood vessels directly, providing important clues about our overall health.

It’s known that the characteristics of these vessels are connected to various health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

However, the role of genetics in determining these blood vessels’ structure was unclear until now.

Unraveling the Genetic Threads

In this innovative study, scientists examined retinal images from nearly 53,000 individuals who participated in the UK Biobank study.

They employed Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to swiftly and accurately identify and measure different types of blood vessels and their structural characteristics within the images.

To understand the genetic influences on blood vessel characteristics, the researchers performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on the participants.

Through this approach, they discovered 119 areas in the genome that are linked to the shape and size of retinal blood vessels, surpassing the findings of any previous studies in this area.

The Intricacies of Arterial Twisting

Interestingly, out of the 119 sections found, 89 were related to the twisting of arteries.

This arterial twisting was the most strongly genetically determined feature and was found to be associated with high diastolic blood pressure and heart disease.

Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats, and any irregularities in this phase can signal underlying health issues.

Insights and Implications

The extensive genetic information uncovered in this study holds substantial potential for our understanding of heart health and blood pressure.

The association between the genetic makeup and the architectural peculiarities of the retinal blood vessels may guide the development of new treatments for heart disease and high blood pressure in the future.

Understanding that a higher level of arterial twisting in the retina corresponds to certain heart conditions provides a unique perspective on preventive health strategies.

It opens up possibilities for early detection and intervention, potentially allowing medical professionals to address heart-related issues before they escalate into severe problems.


This groundbreaking study underscores the significance of our eyes in reflecting the state of our cardiovascular health.

The detailed genetic information and the insights gained from studying the retinal blood vessels can potentially revolutionize the way we approach, understand, and treat conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease.

It’s not just about seeing the intricacies of our vascular system but interpreting them to uncover the hidden stories of our health and well-being, enabling more proactive and informed healthcare solutions.

The study led by Professor Christopher Owen and his team in PLOS Genetics could be the stepping stone to leveraging our ‘ocular windows’ for a healthier heart.

If you care about high blood pressure, please read studies about how fasting may help reverse high blood pressure, and beetroot juice could help reduce blood pressure

For more information about health, please see recent studies about 5 medicines to treat high blood pressure, and results showing diets high in flavonoids could help reduce stroke risk.

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