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 Really? The Claim: Symptoms of Heart Disease Can Show Up in the Eyes

THE FACTS

Is heart disease in the eyes? For some people, it just might be.

Studies have shown that higher levels of lipids, or fats, in the blood can cause some people to develop raised yellow patches of skin around the eyelids, known as xanthelasma. Generally the spots are considered a benign cosmetic issue. Though they affect people of all ages, they are most common in middle age and later. Last year an Italian researcher reported that he spotted clear signs of xanthelasma around Mona Lisa’s left eye.

But in a study this year in the journal BMJ, Danish scientists decided to look at whether these yellow patches could be an indication of underlying cardiovascular disease, tied to high cholesterol. In the study, the researchers followed nearly 13,000 adults over age 30 who were taking part in the Copenhagen City Heart Study.

People who developed the spots, it turned out, were more likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease, regardless of other risk factors, like obesity and cholesterol levels. Over all, men who had xanthelasma had a 12 percent higher risk of heart disease, compared with those who did not, and women who developed the condition had an 8 percent rise in risk.

The nature of the link is not entirely clear. But an editorial with the study suggested that in people with no other overt signs of heart disease, an examination that includes a close inspection of the eyes could help identify those at greater risk.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Research suggests that in some people, small yellow patches around the eyes could be a harbinger of heart disease.

 

  

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