What Diseases Can Be Detected in an Eye Exam?

Dec 22, 2023
 – Besser Eye Care Team
  • Eye Health

Can an eye exam detect other health problems? Learn about the range of health problems and diseases eye doctors can spot in a checkup.

Eye exams are for more than determining visual acuity. Regularly receiving a comprehensive eye exam is one of the most effective ways to detect—and start treating—a range of health problems.

The eyes provide a window to the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue in a patient’s body. Conditions observed in the eyes often signal larger health issues.

Understanding what diseases can be detected in an eye exam not only gives patients an extra incentive to schedule checkups, but provides an important reminder that eye health and general health are closely linked.


Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common diseases which can be detected in an eye exam. It occurs when the retina’s blood vessels swell, leak, or close off, which can cause abnormal new blood vessels to develop on the retina.

An eye doctor may notice signs of the disease if they spot blood vessels in the retina that leak yellow fluid or blood. This can even occur before a patient has been diagnosed with diabetes.

A swift diagnosis is important as diabetes can lead to a variety of serious health and ocular problems. These include cataracts, glaucoma, and vision loss. The most serious of these health problems can be avoided with early detection and treatment.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is another health problem which an eye exam can detect. In addition to heart and kidney issues, high blood pressure can affect a patient’s eyesight and lead to conditions like hypertensive retinopathy—damage to the retina caused by high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is also linked to a range of serious eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration.

Eye doctors typically notice signs of high blood pressure while eyes are dilated during an exam. The most frequent things doctors look for are unusual bends, kinks, or bleeding from blood vessels in the back of the eye.

Blue Eye

High cholesterol

High cholesterol is a precursor to many potentially serious health conditions—including life threatening strokes. It is also linked to several conditions in the eye, including:

Xanthelasma: the most common eye condition linked to high cholesterol. It refers to a raised yellowish area that forms near the bottom of the eyes.

Arcus senilis: a light colored ring that forms around the outside of a patient’s eye

Symptoms of high cholesterol can also show up in the form of blurry vision, seeing dark spots, and eye pain.

Eye doctors may detect signs of high cholesterol by looking for a yellow- or blue-colored ring surrounding the cornea or deposits in the blood vessels of the retina.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a degenerative disease that affects the body’s central nervous system. Eye doctors can detect MS by looking for inflammation in the optic nerve.

This inflammation may not only predict MS, but it can cause eye conditions like blurred vision, painful eye movement, and double vision.

Brain tumors

Symptoms of a brain tumor can show up in a comprehensive eye exam. A tumor can increase pressure in the brain, which often transmits to the eyes. Eye doctors observe this by looking for swelling near the back of the eye

Doctors may also detect brain tumors by looking for symptoms which manifest in the eye such as loss of side vision, recent double vision, or changes in the size of a pupil.


Strokes provide another serious disease that can be detected in an eye exam. Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain becomes blocked, potentially causing lasting brain damage, long-term disability, and death.

Strokes are linked to the eyes because blood vessels in the retina can contain blockage and clots. This can cause sudden blind spots or give patients a sensation of curtains closing across their eyes.

These symptoms may be indicators that a patient is at an increased risk for a stroke. Additionally, eye conditions—which can be detected in a comprehensive exam—such as loss of side vision may indicate brain damage caused by a previous stroke.


An aneurysm is the enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery’s wall. This weak wall can leak and rupture, causing severe health consequences.

Symptoms of an aneurysm include severe, one-sided headaches or loss of facial or body functions. These catastrophic consequences make it even more important for patients to receive regular eye and medical exams.

Autoimmune disorders

Eye exams can detect health problems such as autoimmune disorders. Some of these disorders include:

Myasthenia gravis: An autoimmune disorder which causes muscles to weaken and tire. Typically, the first symptoms involve the eyes. These include drooping eyelids, double vision, and weakness in the arms and legs.

Sjögren's syndrome: In this disorder the body’s white blood cells attack tear and saliva glands. The most common symptoms are dry eye, stinging sensations in the eye, and blurry vision.

Lyme disease: An infection, commonly spread by ticks, that leads to inflammation throughout the body. Patients will often experience floaters and inflammation of the optic nerve.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Many common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can affect the eye. Some of these include syphilis, chlamydia, HIV, herpes, gonorrhea, genital warts, and pubic lice.

Frequent comprehensive eye exams can help detect and begin treatment for this broad range of STDs.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. Patients will typically experience pain or lack of mobility in the fingers, wrists, feet, and ankles.

Ocular signs of rheumatoid arthritis may include a painful inflammation called scleritis—where a patient may experience red eyes with deep, severe pain.


Lupus occurs when a patient’s immune system attacks their tissues and organs. This can affect a variety of body parts including the eyes, joints, skin, and kidneys.

Lupus commonly coincides with dry eyes. It may also cause swelling in the whites of the eye, or in light-sensitive tissue on the back of the eye.

Sickle cell disease

This genetic blood disorder causes patients to develop stiff red blood cells that block blood flow in the body. Sickle cell disease can cause a range of ocular issues including redness, burst red blood vessels, severe hemorrhaging, and retinal detachment.


If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area and would like to schedule a comprehensive eye exam, contact Dr. Besser’s office to sign up for a consultation.

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