Is Arcus Senilis Serious? Causes, Diagnosis & Management

Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2022
Is Arcus Senilis Serious
Arcus senilis is common among the elderly and not dangerous to eyesight or overall health

Arcus senilis itself is not life-threatening, but high cholesterol levels caused by the condition can cause serious complications such as heart attacks.

Arcus senilis, also referred to as corneal arcus, is a bluish-gray or white arc that can be seen above and below the outer section of the cornea. It is the transparent, dome-like covering over the front of the eye. The arc may eventually form a full ring around the iris (colored area) of the eye.

Arcus senilis may stand out more against a brown iris than it does against a lighter blue iris. You may have had it for years and never realized it.

At what age does arcus senilis start?

Arcus senilis is common, affecting about 60% of people ages 50-60 and nearly 100% of people aged 80 years and older. However, it does not cause symptoms, and treatment is typically not required.

The main cause for concern is when arcus senilis occurs in only one eye, which can signal a carotid artery issue. This is quite rare. If you develop arcus senilis at a young age (younger than 40 years), you may be referred to a specialist.

What causes arcus senilis?

Arcus senilis is common among the elderly, and it is not necessarily associated with elevated cholesterol. However, an arc or ring around the iris can be present in younger people with severely high cholesterol and triglycerides levels due to a predisposition to familial hyperlipidemia. These individuals are at an elevated risk of heart disease.

Arcus senilis appears due to fat deposition deep in the cornea's margin. These may eventually join to form a complete ring. Arcus senilis does not affect eyesight and does not require active treatment.

The National Institute of Health recently found that arcus senilis reveals extensive tissue lipid accumulation and is associated with both calcific atherosclerosis and xanthomatosis (fat deposits causing yellow bumps on the skin).

Individuals with more severe arcus senilis are more likely to have significant calcific atherosclerosis. However, the correlation between high cholesterol and arcus senilis is still debatable.

Is arcus senilis harmful?

There is no known effect of corneal arcus senilis on vision. The ring may overlap the iris, but it does not affect vision because vision occurs through the pupil.

Researchers have reported conflicting results regarding arcus senilis to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease. People who have corneal arcus should get a checkup for other indicators of heart disease.

Problems such as hypercholesterolemia can be detected early, decreasing the potential harm they can cause and making treatment easier.

Corneal arcus is especially dangerous in adolescents, teens, and young adults. Though the ring does not affect health, it indicates high levels of cholesterol.

Some newborns may have a blue ring around their iris. This could be due to a weak sclera and will fade with age. It is not the same as arcus juveniles and does not indicate any health risks.


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How is arcus senilis diagnosed?

An eye doctor or optician can detect arcus senilis and may check your eyes using a slit lamp test. They may also dilate your pupils with special eye drops during this test, which allows them to examine the blood vessels at the back of your eye for symptoms of eye disease. They will look for fat deposits and the thickness of the blood vessels.

They may refer you to an ophthalmologist for additional testing if necessary.

If you are younger than 40 years and have arcus senilis symptoms, you may be referred for blood testing to check your cholesterol and lipid levels.

Will arcus senilis go away?

Arcus senilis does not go away, and there is no treatment because the disorder is not harmful to your eyes or overall health.

However, if there is a white, yellow, gray, or blue ring or outline growing around your iris, schedule an eye exam, especially if you are younger than 40. Your optometrist can help you assess whether your symptoms are serious or indicative of a more serious problem.

If you have arcus senilis as an indication of high cholesterol, you may need to make lifestyle changes to decrease the level of cholesterol in your blood. Lifestyle changes may include:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet, which includes limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats and eating foods high in soluble fiber, such as apples and brussels sprouts
  • Exercising regularly, which will help lower your cholesterol levels
  • Limiting alcohol consumption, as too much alcohol can increase the risk of heart failure, strokes, and other health problems
  • Quitting smoking, which can help lower your cholesterol

Sometimes lifestyle changes alone may not be enough, and you may have to take medications to lower your cholesterol levels. You may be advised to have your blood tested for abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2022
Image Source: Getty image

Arcus senilis: A sign of high cholesterol?

Corneal arcus.