Those with abnormalities in both eye vessels, kidney face 7 times more risk

RESEARCHERS here have found that abnormalities in eye vessels and kidney function can predict that a person is seven times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease later in life.

Their findings could lead to better screening tests within two to three years.

A team from the Singapore Eye Research Institute took urine samples from more than 3,400 healthy adults here, aged 40 to 80. They also used a retinal camera to take a snapshot of the inner surface of their eyes.

In urine, the level of a protein called albumin indicates how well one’s kidneys are working. In retinal photos, certain types of cloudy spots and narrowing of the tiny blood vessels that carry blood to the eye also indicate blood vessel problems.

“Retinal vessels are a ‘window’ to study early vascular disease in the body,” said Assistant Professor Carol Cheung, who led the research. “Damage in these vessels can reflect damage in other vessels elsewhere.”

Eight years after the samples and snapshots were taken, they used National Registry of Diseases data to check whether the same people eventually suffered from cardiovascular diseases which involve the heart and blood vessels – such as strokes.

If someone had only one type of abnormality, eye or kidney, their risk of developing cardiovascular disease was about 1.7 to two times greater than a similar person without any abnormality.

But if a person had both abnormalities together, their risk of cardiovascular disease was seven times greater than that for someone without any abnormality.

The researchers’ findings are a first in Asia. A similar study in the United States looked at such abnormalities in patients there, but measured only their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Nearly a third of deaths here are due to cardiovascular disease – coronary heart disease, stroke and other conditions.

Now, Prof Cheung and her colleagues are hoping to use the findings to refine existing risk assessments that doctors use to predict patients’ cardiovascular disease risk. Currently, the most commonly used is the Framingham Risk Score, which incorporates a person’s age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other factors.

They hope to develop a test that includes the findings. Prof Cheung said the equipment, such as retinal cameras, is readily available at hospitals and polyclinics.

The research will be presented at a scientific congress held by Duke-NUS and SingHealth next week.