A new study suggests that a middle-aged person dying of coronary heart disease can be predicted by examining his eyes for minimized curvature of the arterioles and venules in the eyes.
Arterioles and venules are small branches of main arteries and veins, and their condition reflects the general state of the smaller blood vessels in the body, or microcirculation.
During the nine years of the study, 78 women (just over 4%) and 114 men (just under 8%) died from coronary heart disease.
Among those aged 49 and up to the age of 75, although relatively uncommon, deaths from coronary heart disease doubled if the venules were wider.
Wider venules have been linked to several risk factors for coronary heart disease, including smoking, systemic inflammation, high total cholesterol and obesity.
In women in this age narrower arterioles were also associated with a 50% increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
The authors point out that the numbers involved are small, as fewer people die from heart disease. But signs in the small vessels of the eye appear to be independent predictors of the risk of death from coronary heart disease among those under 75, particularly in women.
Retinal photography may be a useful non-invasive method of assessing this risk, they suggest.