Retinal screening – fundus photography – can detect early peripheral artery disease
Atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty deposits, or plaques, within blood vessels – can affect the arteries supplying the heart (coronary artery disease), brain (cerebrovascular disease), limbs (peripheral artery disease (PAD)), or a combination of the three. In the case of PAD, early stages can be symptomless and yet still increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Timely diagnosis is thus highly desirable but difficult. The good news is, scientists have discovered changes to blood vessels in the retina associated with PAD – even in early-stage disease. While the changes are often subtle, by using thousands of photos of human retinas – the sort taken during routine eye exams – scientists have been able to train a machine-learning algorithm to distinguish healthy from unhealthy retinas. In a small-scale trial, the software detected PAD-related vessel alterations and correctly diagnosed 80 percent of patients, spurring hope for its development into a diagnostic screen.
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