When it comes to heart health, being able to notice and diagnose problems before they cause potentially fatal heart attacks is very important. There are currently all sorts of ways for doctors to assess a person’s risk, including looking at their age, weight, family history, and height. However, a surprising new technique may allow for even more accurate diagnoses. A new study published in the Hypertension journal by the American Heart Association reports that the blood vessels of the eyes can actually reveal quite a lot about a person’s heart health.

The study looked at roughly 55,000 patients throughout the UK. The team used automated image processing to analyze the tiny blood vessels found at the backs of a person’s eyeballs. These small vessels can easily be viewed without any invasive procedure, so it is possible for researchers to quickly measure things like blood pressure, blood vessel curvature, diameter of blood vessels, and artery stiffness.

The analysis of the study’s data revealed that arteries with a higher rate of curvature signified that a patient had higher blood pressure. They also discovered that stiffer artery walls meant a person had higher arterial pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and stiffer artery walls. This data can be used to reveal some very useful information about heart health. It may allow doctors to notice when a patient has some of the key markers of heart disease.

This information is already proving to be helpful for diagnosis, but the researchers hope to take it a few steps further. They plan on continuing the study by monitoring the health of the patients for the next 10 years or so. Over time, they are curious to see if the blood vessels of the eyes show these concerning changes before a person is diagnosed with heart disease. The researchers hope this can be used to notice that patients are in danger before they have a heart attack, so they can take steps to prevent or treat the condition.

This information could potentially be life saving for many patients. Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death around the globe, killing thousands of people annually. However, it is often quite preventable. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular cardiovascular exercise, avoiding stress, and sleeping enough can all help to greatly improve overall heart health.