The stroke sign you might ignore — but shouldn’t
Wednesday, May 01, 2019
Your right eye goes blurry out of the blue. You blink, but the blurriness doesn't go away immediately. Ten minutes later, boom — it's gone. No big deal, right?
Think again — you could have just had an eye stroke. Eye strokes are brief episodes of blurred vision or vision loss that last from a minute to a half-hour, then clear. You might chalk one up to a smudgy contact lens or just being tired, but any kind of diminished or missing vision should be taken very seriously. You should go to the ER if you experience it.
And when you get there, push for a full stroke work-up. Why? According to the American Heart Association, only half of 5,600 patients who suffered an eye stroke were properly evaluated for a full cerebral stroke during their course of treatment.
This is unacceptable, because eye strokes can be a sign that you've had a full-blown stroke — or a can be a precursor to one. The AHA also reports that one in 100 patients who have an eye stroke experience a full-blown stroke within three months.
Here's everything you need to know to identify the condition and seek help if you need it.
What is an eye stroke?
There are a number of conditions that fall under that condition, but let's look at a very common form of the condition, as follows.
An eye stroke can also be identified as non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION). It happens when blood flow stops to the optic nerve, which connects your eye and brain.
Often, this happens because of a blockage, such as a blood clot, although the exact cause of an eye stroke is not fully understood. Sometimes there's total blockage of a blood vessel that feeds the optic nerve, but often simply inadequate blood flow to one-half of the nerve is enough to cause an eye stroke.
When your optic nerve's nutrient and oxygen supply is halted, your nerve tissue is damaged, and you lose your vision partially or fully in that eye.
Often people will have an eye stroke very abruptly. You might wake up to find you can't see out of one eye but you are experiencing no pain. You could suddenly see a dark area or shadow in the upper or lower half of your vision.
Other symptoms include loss of contrast and light sensitivity — your vision will be blurry. Seeing double can also be a worrisome sign. Even if these symptoms only last a couple of minutes, play it safe — go to the ER immediately.
How is an eye stroke diagnosed?
A doctor will check to see if you have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea or high cholesterol, which are risk factors for an eye stroke. You'll get an eye exam, including dilation of your eyes to examine your optic nerve and retina.
If your optic nerve looks swollen, you could have had an eye stroke. And again, a full work-up for stroke is essential, as an eye stroke can, in some cases, herald a full-blown stroke at a later time.
Typically, in NAION, the optic nerve will appear swollen. Another type of eye stroke, giant cell arteritis, could affect your other eye as well, so it needs to be ruled out. You also could have experienced a retinal migraine, a rare form of migraine that can cause visual disturbance in just one eye and can mimic an eye stroke.
How is an eye stroke treated?
It is essential to take care of any underlying conditions that could have produced the clot or blockage that caused your eye stroke. Once you've had an eye stroke, you need to consume a healthy diet, take your prescribed medications, and exercise to lose weight if your doctor recommends it.
An overall healthy lifestyle is your best bet to prevent further issues and help you live your best life.
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