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What your eyes say about your health

I was intrigued to hear about an experimental test to detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease by imaging the retina at the back of the eye. Researchers have found, at least in mice, that beta amyloid plaques can be detected in the retina before they gunk up the brain and interfere with memory and other mental functions. Whether the imaging will prove useful in humans remains to be seen.

But ophthalmologists already get a window into our health by examining the blood vessels, nerves, and structures of the eye because all the body’s systems are interconnected. Here’s what they frequently spot:

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1. Diabetes. Small blood vessels in the back of the retina that leak blood can be a sign of diabetes, said Dr. Sherleen Chen, director of the comprehensive ophthalmology service at Mass. Eye and Ear.

2. Clogged arteries. A blockage in smaller veins in the retina can occur when larger retinal arteries have been clogged by artery plaque, which often means clogged arteries elsewhere.

3. Liver disease. Yellowing in the whites of the eye can indicate a buildup of bile or jaundice, which could indicate liver disease.

4. Autoimmune diseases. Bulging, protruding eyes are a sign of an autoimmune condition called Grave’s disease.

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