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What Is Arcus Senilis?

Arcus senilis is a common eye condition characterized by a gray or white arc visible around the cornea. It's often associated with aging and doesn't typically affect vision. While usually harmless, its presence can sometimes indicate higher cholesterol levels. Intrigued by how this subtle ring can reflect your health? Discover the deeper implications of arcus senilis in our comprehensive guide.
Toni Henthorn
Toni Henthorn

Arcus senilis is a grayish-blue to white opaque band in the periphery of the cornea, which is the clear window-like structure on the front of the eye. The number of people with arcus senilis increases with age for both genders, with the problem occurring more frequently in men than in women. Cholesterol crystals, or fats, deposit in the central layer of the cornea, coalescing into the ring-shaped structure. Arcus deposits initially appear at the six and 12 o’clock positions of the cornea and expand circumferentially to form the entire ring. A thin, clear zone between the ring and the corneal edge is called the lucid interval of Vogt.

More than two-thirds of men and women in the eighth decade of life have this condition. Women rarely develop arcus prior to menopause. The condition is more common in patients of African descent than in Caucasians. In addition, corneal arcus is often present in smokers, hypertensive patients, and diabetics.

Xanthelasma is more common among Asians.
Xanthelasma is more common among Asians.

Although arcus may occur in the absence of medical conditions, the presence of arcus senilis can be an indicator of high cholesterol or high blood lipid levels. In most of the corneal arcus patients over the age of 40, the blood cholesterol levels are normal. If an individual under the age of 40 has arcus senilis, it is more likely to point to elevated cholesterol levels. Affected young people with the condition usually have a significant family history of high cholesterol and early heart disease. Arcus in a young person is called arcus juvenilis.

The cornea allows light to enter into the eye.
The cornea allows light to enter into the eye.

When arcus senilis only affects one eye, it can be a sign of reduced blood flow to the uninvolved eye. This may be indicative of obstruction or calcification of a carotid artery. Sturge-Weber syndrome, a condition associated with a one-sided facial port wine stain and increased eye pressure, can also lead to the development of a unilateral arcus on the uninvolved side. Scientists postulate that the facial blood vessel tumor increases the pressure in the eye, thereby decreasing the blood flow through the eye. The decreased blood flow from either carotid artery occlusion or Sturge-Weber has a protective effect against the deposition of cholesterol in the cornea.

People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for developing arcus senilis.
People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for developing arcus senilis.

The finding of arcus senilis in patients younger than 40 requires prompt blood work to evaluate the possibility of lipid abnormalities in the body. Other signs and symptoms of excessively high blood lipids include fatty deposits on the eyelids, called xanthelasma, and fatty deposits in the skin, called xanthomas. The condition, although usually asymptomatic, may also cause chest pain, abdominal pain, and enlargement of the spleen and liver.

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Discussion Comments

henthorn

If the arcus senilis is related to an elevation of the blood lipids, treatment with medications to lower the cholesterol level may stop the progression. There is no treatment to remove the ring from the cornea. It does not cause blindness.

anon119218

I am a female having Arcus sinilis both eyes. what is the treatment of this problem? Can Arcus sinilis cause blindness? Please answer or reply to my question.

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    • Xanthelasma is more common among Asians.
      By: hyunsuss
      Xanthelasma is more common among Asians.
    • The cornea allows light to enter into the eye.
      By: kocakayaali
      The cornea allows light to enter into the eye.
    • People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for developing arcus senilis.
      By: dambuster
      People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for developing arcus senilis.
    • Arcus senilis that only afftects one eye may be a sign of reduced blood flow to the uninvolved eye.
      By: JackF
      Arcus senilis that only afftects one eye may be a sign of reduced blood flow to the uninvolved eye.
    • Arcus senilis may lead to enlargement of the liver.
      By: pankajstock123
      Arcus senilis may lead to enlargement of the liver.
    • Arcus senilis is more common among people of African descent.
      By: Hogan Imaging
      Arcus senilis is more common among people of African descent.
    • Periodic eye exams are important, particularly if the patient notices any changes in vision.
      By: FotolEdhar
      Periodic eye exams are important, particularly if the patient notices any changes in vision.
    • Arcus senilis may cause abdominal pain.
      By: ruigsantos
      Arcus senilis may cause abdominal pain.