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Your eyes can predict if you'll have a heart attack

Blood vessels in your eyes give clues to blockages that can lead to heart attacks.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — They say your eyes are the window to the soul—but they can also be a window to a heart attack.

"There's so much more to an eye exam than just determining your glasses or contact lens prescription," said Dr. Gregory Ford, an optometrist with West Michigan Eye Care Associates. "One of the big parts of our eye exam is to look inside the eye and look specifically at the blood vessels."

Dr. Ford says those blood vessels are an indication of what's happening in other parts of the body. 

"I've actually had a couple patients that have passed away subsequent to me finding blockages in blood vessels in the retina," he said. "So it is it is an absolute sign of trouble pending."

In fact, eye exams are such a big predictor of heart health that researchers in the U.K. have developed an artificial intelligence tool they say can predict whether or not someone will have a heart attack within the next year with 80% accuracy.

The AI learns algorithms that can forecast risks for heart attacks by reading scans of the eye. 

"It's fascinating technology," said Dr. Ford.

He says this type of artificial intelligence testing could have a big impact in hard to reach communities. 

"I think it has some potential for outside of an eye doctor's office, this may be something that is put into underserved areas, where folks can come in, and they can have a photograph of the eye and it can give us some clues as to what's happening without having a physician there," Dr. Ford said.

But while this technology isn't available yet, your eye doctor is. 

"And so we can look for blockages, we can look for changes in the diameter of the blood vessels, we can look for changes in the thickness of the wall of a blood vessel, we can look for any number of different signs that could be an indication that blood vessels are having trouble in other parts of the body," said Ford. 

It's a visit that just might save your life.

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