Skip to main content
  • This Eye Problem is an Early Warning Sign of Stroke

    By Susanne Medeiros
    Reviewed By Nicole Bajic, MD
    Sep. 16, 2022

    The first time it happened, it lasted only 10 minutes. The vision in Barbara Krupar’s left eye became pixilated and the light seemed to shimmer. It was painless and her vision returned to normal.

    Then it happened again.

    She wasn’t too concerned because she knew about ocular migraines, a headache that's accompanied by changes in vision. She'd already Googled it.

    But the next time it happened; everything went black in her left eye. Her vision returned after 30 minutes, but this episode was too frightening to explain away. The 65-year-old Brooklyn, Ohio, retiree called her ophthalmologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

    Nicole Bajic, MD, quickly ruled out an ocular migraine. The kaleidoscope pattern and zig zags that happen during an ocular migraine typically affect both eyes. Barbara was experiencing symptoms in her left eye only.

    When Dr. Bajic dilated her pupil to get a good look at the back of her eye, she detected possible early warning signs of a stroke, and recommended Barbara go to the emergency room immediately to have her head and neck imaged.

    Signs of stroke in the eye

    Most people are surprised to learn that early signs of serious medical conditions affecting your body can be detected in the eyes. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and even Alzheimer’s disease can be detected in the eye. That’s because the blood vessels and nerves in our eyes are reflective of the state of the rest of the body.

    With a planned vacation coming up, Barbara was reluctant to go right away.  “Dr. Bajic gave me that look that moms give, so I went to the ER,” Barbara said.

    It was the right choice. The ER physician determined that the carotid artery in her neck was 85% blocked. She was at imminent risk of suffering a stroke. Instead of getting on a bus and heading to New York, Barbara was scheduled for surgery.

    Eye exams save lives

    Surgeons made a large incision in her neck and removed the plaque buildup in her carotid artery so blood flow could return to normal. Barbara spent a week in the hospital, where she was given a nicotine patch to help her quit smoking. Smoking is a leading cause of stroke. Tests revealed the good news that she had not experienced a “mini-stroke,” an event that can precede a stroke and cause a temporary loss of brain function. 

    “Barbara’s experience really highlights the importance of getting an annual eye exam,” Dr. Bajic said. “The best care is preventative care. It’s like getting your teeth examined every year. You want to see if something else is brewing.”

    Having an established relationship with her ophthalmologist also made it easier for Barbara to get help when she needed it. “Patients can get lost in the shuffle sometimes,” Dr. Bajic explained. “She didn’t have a couple of months to wait.”

    Barbara’s feels fortunate now, reflecting on how close she came to possibly suffering a stroke far from home. “It all turned out the way it was supposed to,” she said.

    Nicole Bajic, MD