AI Uses a Scan of Your Retina to Predict Your Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one cause of death among American adults. Conditions like obesity or diabetes increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, and blood tests or blood pressure measurements can provide a better estimate of how likely someone is to have heart problems. There may soon be an even easier way to predict heart disease risk: by scanning your eye.

A paper published this month in the British Journal of Ophthalmology describes a method for quick, affordable cardiovascular screenings using retinal vasculature imaging-that is, a photo of the blood vessels at the back of the eye.

“AI-enabled vasculometry risk prediction is fully automated, low cost, non-invasive, and has the potential for reaching a higher proportion of the population in the community because of ‘high street’ availability and because blood sampling or are not needed,” they wrote in the paper.

A Window to the Heart The retina is the tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses, which it sends to the brain through the optic nerve.

Besides keeping the retina functioning, these blood vessels can also serve as a window into other parts of the body-even the heart.

Scientists have found an association between characteristics like narrow retinal arteries and vessel tortuosity, and high blood pressure, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

“Doctors have known for more than a hundred years that you could look in the eye and see signs of diabetes and high blood pressure,” Pearse Keane, a researcher in ophthalmology and AI analysis not connected to the study, told The Verge.

The team analyzed the width and tortuosity of retinal arteries and veins to develop prediction models for stroke, heart attack, and death from circulatory disease.

A common tool for estimating heart disease risk, the FRS looks at age, gender, total cholesterol, high density lipoprotein cholesterol, smoking habits, and systolic blood pressure to estimate the probability someone will develop heart disease within a given span of time, usually 10 to 30 years.