A Brief Vision Change Can Warn of a Stroke Before it Happens Prompting Medical Attention Say Eye Doctors

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New Research Study By Wills Eye Ophthalmologists Looks at Vision Symptoms as Not-to-Ignore Early Warning Signs of Stroke and Best Prevention and Treatment Options

“If temporary blurriness or reduced vision is due to an oncoming stroke, you may only have a few hours to get emergency care before a stroke occurs.”

“Brief vision changes in one eye can be a sign of an oncoming stroke,” says Chief of Neuro-Ophthalmology, Robert C. Sergott, MD, Wills Eye Hospital. “If temporary blurriness or reduced vision is due to an oncoming stroke, you may only have a few hours to get emergency care before a stroke occurs.”

Dr. Sergott says these fleeting vision changes are tricky and easy to miss by people including other doctors in some cases. “It’s like fading vision or a window shade coming down or going up and lasts only a few minutes before it goes away. Because it’s brief and vision quickly returns to normal, people will ignore it since they feel better.”

But you should never ignore temporary vision changes, according to Dr. Sergott and his colleagues at Wills Eye Hospital of Philadelphia, an internationally renowned eye hospital and the nation’s first. They recommend seeking emergency eye care as soon as possible at your local hospital or an eye hospital if there is one near you. Brief vision changes before a stroke can occur alone without other commonly known stroke symptoms such as face droop, one-sided weakness or slurred speech.

Wills Eye Hospital ophthalmologists are stopping several would-be strokes a month with the help of doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Since treatment is more difficult once a blood vessel is damaged or breaks, researchers at Wills Eye Hospital have begun an important clinical study to examine risk factors of stroke as it relates to the eye, optimal treatments and outcomes.
“You would be surprised how many life-saving diagnoses we make from eye issues that lead us to other undetected systemic findings,” says Ann P. Murchison, MD, MPH, and Director of the Wills Eye Emergency Department. “The eye can tell you a lot.”

"Jefferson's great collaboration with Wills Eye has been essential in diagnosing many patients with life-threatening conditions – conditions that might otherwise be missed," says Maria Pineda, MD, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Dr. Murchison and Dr. Pineda are leading the stroke study.

Stroke symptoms usually develop suddenly and without warning, or sometimes they may occur on and off for a day or two. About 40 percent of nerve cells in the brain are related to your eye. “More and more patients are realizing that strokes can begin with blurry vision as the only symptom, but we need to get that message out to more people and as a reminder to other physicians,” says Dr. Sergott.

“Sudden loss of vision in one eye – even if temporary - should trigger an immediate trip to the emergency room for a detailed evaluation, rather than waiting for an elective ultrasound of the carotid artery or brain MRI that could be days or weeks away from being scheduled,” says Mark Moster, MD, a neuro-ophthalmologist and neurologist with Wills Eye Hospital.

“Not every case of blurry vision means a dire diagnosis, but when it’s in one eye, or patients come in with sudden stabbing pain in their eye, double vision, or a sudden loss of vision, a more involved workup is required,” said Dr. Murchison.

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Cathy Moss
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