Stroke, Heart Attack, Vision Loss: How Eye Doctors Save Eyes And Lives

Woman getting her eyes examined by a doctorTen years ago, Jane Adams* walked into Key-Whitman Eye Center for a preoperative exam prior to having LASIK eye surgery. What Jane didn’t expect was that she would leave our office with life changing news. The eye surgeon performing her exam found excess pressure on the back of Jane’s eyes, which indicated she might have a brain tumor. Key-Whitman ophthalmologist Larry A. Fish explains what happened next. “Instead of giving Jane the all clear for LASIK, our team arranged for Jane to see a specialist in neuro-ophthalmology to find out if the pressure behind her eye was caused by a brain tumor or another neurological condition.”

Concerned with her health, Jane went to see the neuro-ophthalmologist right away.

According to Jane, “While I didn’t have a brain tumor, the specialist discovered that I had a build up of fluid and pressure around my eyes due to a condition known as pseudotumor cerebri.”

The symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri mimic those of a brain tumor, though no tumor is present. When the condition is left untreated, fluid and pressure can continue to build up around the patient’s eyes. High intracranial pressure can damage the optic nerve and potentially lead to blindness.

Learn more about pseudotumor cerebri symptoms and causes on the Mayo Clinic website.

Serious Health Conditions Don’t Always Come With Red Flags

Prior to visiting Key-Whitman, Jane didn’t experience any unusual symptoms that were a cause of concern for her.

“I spent a lot of time on the computer for my job, so I thought the blurriness and double vision I experienced from time to time was normal. Fortunately, I went to Key-Whitman for that exam, otherwise I could have lost my vision permanently,” Jane says.

As was the case with Jane’s neurological condition, many other health issues don’t come with red flags. However, eye doctors often diagnose serious health problems before primary care physicians do.

For example, symptoms of vascular disease can be spotted during eye exams. As Dr. Fish explains, “Emboli, cholesterol and plaque can be visible in the small vasculature in the retina, which can indicate vascular disease. This scenario happened to be the case with a patient of mine.”

During the eye exam in question, Dr. Fish became concerned that his patient had a carotid artery problem and referred him to the patient’s primary care doctor who set up a carotid Doppler imaging test.

“Sure enough, the test revealed the patient had occlusion of his carotid arteries, which required surgery. Had we not found vascular irregularities during the eye exam and the patient didn’t have surgery, he would have been at very high risk for stroke. So we may have prevented a stroke from happening just by doing an eye exam,” Dr. Fish says.

Learn how Key-Whitman eye doctors use technology to elevate patient care in this past post: Can an annual eye exam save your life?

Symptoms Of Common Health Conditions Show Up During Eye Exams, Too

According to Dr. Fish, the two most common systemic conditions eye doctors find during a routine eye exam are diabetes and high blood pressure.

“A lot of people don’t know they are diabetic, because they don’t have any symptoms. But when we examine their eyes, we can see they have diabetic retinopathy, where blood vessels in the retina are damaged. During a dilated eye exam we can also spot vascular changes in the eye that may indicate the patient has high blood pressure,” says Dr. Fish.

Of course, eye doctors also look for eye diseases and conditions during an exam, many of which cause permanent vision loss when left untreated.

As Dr. Fish explains, “People who have macular degeneration and glaucoma don’t notice any symptoms until irreparable vision loss has occurred. That’s why it’s so important to be screened regularly, especially if there is a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration.”

Eye Exams Protect More Than Your Eyes – They Might Just Save Your Life

While Jane was unable to have LASIK surgery, her pseudotumor cerebri diagnosis and ongoing management of the condition have helped prevent damage to the optic nerve and allowed Jane to maintain her vision.

She also believes her experience should be a wake up call to people who underestimate the value of an eye exam.

As Jane explains, “Because of my work and daily activities, I believed my symptoms were normal with no cause for concerns about my health. I appreciated the thoroughness of the eye exam, because that is what led to my diagnosis. I’m so grateful to Key-Whitman for putting this on my radar.”

To schedule an eye health exam with Dr. Fish in Dallas or an eye doctor at one of our Arlington, Mesquite, North Dallas or Plano locations, please call (214) 225-2577 or feel free to set up an appointment online.


Texas native Larry A. Fish, M.D., earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees from Texas Tech University. After 12 years of private practice in Midland, Texas, Dr. Fish joined Key-Whitman in 2016. Experienced in all areas of ophthalmology, Dr. Fish specializes in treating eye disorders such as uveitis, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. When he isn’t treating patients or serving as a clinical instructor at the Texas Tech Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. Fish enjoys an active lifestyle and spending time with his wife and daughters.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

* Patient name and minor details have been changed to protect her privacy.