High Cholesterol: How Your Eyes Can Signal Warning Signs

By Dr Arun Gopi

01 Jan, 2018


High cholesterol is often referred to as a “silent killer” because it rarely flaunts warning symptoms whereas at the same time, accumulates along your arteries, slowly causing damage over time.

However, at times, your eyes can signal the condition! During an eye examination, your doctor may detect certain warning signs that can indicate elevated levels of cholesterol.


What are the signs in your eyes, that can suggest elevated cholesterol levels?

1. Xanthomas
High cholesterol can also lead to xanthomas which are yellowish bumps that appear on the skin surface and in some cases, on the eye. Generally, xanthomas aren’t harmful, but they can be disfiguring and are a sign of a more serious underlying medical problem related to elevated blood lipids. In some cases, the yellowish bumps burst, which require medical attention immediately.

2. Corneal Arcus
In some people a white ring around the circumference of the cornea may be noticed. Though this white ring, called a corneal arcus, appears as part of the natural aging process, it can be seen at any age due to high cholesterol levels as well. It is seen especially in people with extremely high levels of cholesterol and those with familial hyperlipidaemia. Corneal arcus may appear without the presence of high cholesterol  as well. A corneal arcus does not usually affect vision, and treatment is typically focused on controlling cholesterol.

3.  Retinal artery occlusion
When you have high cholesterol levels, the retinal arteries that carries oxygen-rich blood to the retina gets clogged by cholesterol build -up and its blood supply can be easily blocked-- much like a heart attack or stroke. The retina's light-sensitive cells gradually get deprived of oxygen by this reduced blood flow, and the result is sudden vision loss in the affected eye. The severity of vision loss depends on how completely the blood flow is obstructed. The treatment is typically focused on controlling cholesterol.


How to know if you have high cholesterol
A blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol. Ask your doctor if you should have a cholesterol test. Recommendations for the age of first screening may vary. The frequency of your tests may be more if you the results aren't within desirable range, if have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure.


Ask your doctor if you should have a cholesterol test. Be sure to work with your doctor to routinely track your fasting lipid levels -- and don't let cholesterol crash your vision or looks.

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