Hypertensive retinopathy Definition
Hypertensive retinopathy is damage to the
retina from high blood pressure. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back part of the eye. It changes light and images that enter the eye into nerve signals that are sent to the brain.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the retina. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it has been high, the more severe the damage is likely to be.
When you have diabetes, high cholesterol levels, or you smoke, you have a higher risk of damage and vision loss.
Rarely, a condition called
malignant hypertension develops. Blood pressure readings suddenly become very high. Sometimes, the sudden rise in blood pressure can cause more severe changes in the eye.
Other problems with the retina are also more likely to occur, such as:
Most people with hypertensive retinopathy do not have symptoms until late in the disease.
Malignant hypertension may cause the following sudden symptoms, and should be considered a medical emergency:
Signs and tests
Using an instrument called an
ophthalmoscope, your health care provider can see narrowing of blood vessels, and signs that fluid has leaked from blood vessels.
The degree of retina damage (retinopathy) is graded on a scale of 1 to 4:
At grade 1, you may not have symptoms.
In between grades 1 and 4, there are a number of changes in the blood vessels, areas where blood vessels have leaked, and other parts of the retina.
Grade 4 hypertensive retinopathy includes swelling of the optic nerve and of the visual center of the retina (macula). This swelling can cause decreased vision. Fluorescein angiography may be used to examine the blood vessels.
Controlling high blood pressure (
hypertension) is the only treatment for hypertensive retinopathy.
Malignant hypertension for treatment of this disorder
Patients with grade 4 (severe hypertensive retinopathy) often have heart and kidney complications of high blood pressure. They are also at higher risk for stroke.
The retina will generally recover if the blood pressure is controlled. However, some patients with grade 4 hypertensive retinopathy will have permanent damage to the optic nerve or macula.
Complications Complications associated with high blood pressure
Irreversible damage to the optic nerve or macula, resulting in vision problems Calling your health care provider
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have high blood pressure and vision changes or headaches occur.
Controlling high blood pressure prevents changes in the blood vessels of the eye, as well as in other organs like the heart, kidneys, and brain.
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Duane's Ophthalmology. 15th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2009:chap 13.
Klig JE. Ophthalmologic complications of systemic disease.
Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2008;26(1):217-231.
Rogers AH. Hypertensive retinopathy. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds.
Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis Mo: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 6.15.
Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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