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Systemic Diseases and the eye


The eye can be affected in a number of systemic diseases that involve many organs or the whole body. Almost any part of the eye can give important clues to the diagnosis of systemic diseases because problems in the eye may be a first presentation of the systemic disease.

Patients with known systemic problems may need to have their eyes specifically checked for complications. Examination of the eye should be a routine and important part of a general examination in certain systemic diseases.  

During a comprehensive eye exam, we do much more than just determine your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses. We will also check your eyes to detect eye complications caused by chronic systemic diseases such as diabetes millitus and high blood pressure. 

Common eye problems and their systemic associations

  • Diabetes Mellitus

If you have diabetes, regular visits to your eye doctor for regular exams are important to avoid eye problems. High blood sugar (glucose) increases the risk of eye problems from diabetes. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the vascular (blood-vessel related) complications related to diabetes. 

Once high blood sugar damages blood vessels in the retina, they can leak fluid or bleed. This causes the retina to swell and form deposits in early stages of diabetic retinopathy.

The effect of retinopathy on vision in people with diabetes varies widely, depending on the stage of the disease.


  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the retina. Damage to the retina and retinal circulation due to high blood pressure is called hypertensive retinopathy. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it has been high, the more severe the damage is likely to be, necessitating regular routine eye examination. 






  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis ia an autoimmune disease, not only affects the joints; it also can affect the eyes, too. The most common eye-related symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is dryness of the eye.

rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the sclera (scleritis) and iris (iritis) , causing the white of the eye to become red.  The patient feels pain and sensitivity to light. 

If you have rheumatoid arthritis and experience eye pain, vision changes or other eye problems, consult an eye doctor for an evaluation. Early treatment can help prevent vision-threatening complications.

  • Graves' disease (Overactive Thyroid disorder)

Hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid that is situated in the anterior (front) neck below the skin and muscle layers. The eye complications of that disease is called graves disease in which the tissues and muscles behind the eyesbecome swollen. The eyeballs may stick out farther than normal. The characteristic symptoms of Graves’ eye disease feature the inflammation of the eye tissues. The eyes are painful, red and watery - particularly in sunshine or wind. The covering of the eye is inflamed and swollen.

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