Why you should really visit Specsavers

  • Scientists trained an AI to examine routine eye scans for signs of heart disease  
  • The AI used UK eye scanners to identify up to 80% who suffered a cardiac arrest.
  • The researchers hope that the could be used by doctors to flag patients at high risk of heart disease to be treated
  • An equivalent scan currently requires people to book an appointment at hospital

According to a study, routine eye tests at opticians may be used in order to identify patients who are at high risk for a heart attack. 

A programme that analyses routine eye scans has been created by AI scientists to identify early signs of a potential heart attack.

This is done by checking for changes in tiny blood vessels located at the back and side of the eye. These findings indicate that they contain key information regarding heart health.

A problem with blood circulation may cause retina cells to be damaged, dying and leave behind a permanent mark.

Researchers at the University of Leeds were able within one year to identify heart attacks in patients with accuracy up to 80 percent. 

Nature Machine Intelligence published the study on 3,000 patients.  

Cardiovascular disease is the second largest killer in the UK, causing 160,000 deaths each year – an average of 460 fatalities a day. In the US, heart disease kills 659,000 people each year.  

Scientists hope the AI could use routine eye scans taken at optometrists and raise the alarm if it spotted any signs of a heart problem

Scientists believe the AI will be able to use routine eye exams taken by optometrists, and alert if it detects signs of heart disease.  

What’s the retina? 

A layer of cells located at the retina’s back, opposite the pupil is called the “retina”.

It converts light entering the eye into chemical signals.

These chemical messages reach the brain, and are interpreted by the eyes to form the visual images we see.

Recent studies suggest that scanning the retina can be a useful way to identify heart disease.

This is because poor circulation, a possible early indicator of heart disease, can cause parts of the retina to die, leaving a permanent mark.  

When performing a routine eye exam, optometrists often examine the retinas in both eyes to identify other health issues.

Some UK optometrists offer more detailed and specialized image scans of the retinas, but they are not always included in standard eye tests.  

Alex Frangi is an expert in computational medicine from Leeds University and was responsible for the supervision of the research. 

He stated that this technique could revolutionize the screening of heart disease. 

“Retinal scans” are relatively inexpensive and used routinely in many optician offices. 

“As a consequence of automated screening patients could be referred for specialist cardiac services. 

Researchers from Belgium, France, China and France were also part of the study. 

The AI was trained by scientists by having it analyze the retinal scans from more than 5,000 Britons. It then had to associate changes in a patient’s heart with signs of retinal damage.

AI software could calculate the volume and efficiency of left ventricle (one of four chambers in the heart), which can then be used to estimate pumping effectiveness. 

An enlarged or inefficient left ventricle indicator is an indicator of heart disease. 

AI may use patient data (such as gender and age) to assess heart attack risk if it detects a concern left ventricle. 

To determine if the AI had ever suffered from one, historical data was used to cross-reference with AI results. 

Current technology means scanning the left ventricle requires one of two kinds of scan, an ultrasound called an echocardiography, or an MRI of the heart. 

These are costly and cannot be done in a hospital. The NHS could also save time and money by developing alternative ways of assessing heart health.

In the most recent study, researchers added that AI could be used in countries where there is very little capacity to perform expensive heart scans.  

Sometimes, people mistake classic signs of heart attacks, like chest pain, for other health problems. In some cases, they may not even be present.

According to some studies, almost half of all heart attacks go unnoticed. Others estimate that it is one in five.  

People aged 40 to 75 in England are encouraged to have a health checkup that includes tests for heart disease. This is done every five years. Similar plans are in effect in all other UK states.

High blood pressure, which is one of the main risk factors for heart attacks in the UK, affects approximately 14 million people. Only 5million of these individuals are aware they are at-risk.