Systemic diseases are diseases that involve many organs or the whole body. Many of these diseases also affect the eyes. In fact, an eye exam sometimes leads to the first diagnosis of a systemic disease.
The eye is composed of many different types of tissue. This unique feature makes the eye susceptible to a wide variety of diseases as well as provide insights into many body systems. Almost any part of the eye can give important clues to the diagnosis of systemic diseases. Signs of a systemic disease may be evident on the outer surface of they eye (eyelids, conjunctiva and cornea), middle of the eye and at the back of the eye (retina). Because the eye structures are uniquely transparent, a doctor can see inside the eye. The eye is the only organ in the body in which a doctor can directly see blood vessels.
The eye may be involved with the following diseases among others: Diabetes, AIDS, Graves’ disease (a thyroid disorder), Sarcoidosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Hypertension (high blood pressure), Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Sickle cell disease and Multiple sclerosis. For any of the eye problems mentioned above, it is important to have an eye examination by a doctor who will confer with your primary care physician. Depending on the condition, systemic treatment may be needed. Ophthalmic treatment can range from drugs for inflammatory diseases to laser therapy for retinal vascular diseases to surgery for tumors.