High blood pressure and eye disease
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 of High blood pressure and eye disease
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.
You have a higher risk of damage and vision loss when you have diabetes, high cholesterol level, or you smoke.
Rarely, blood pressure readings suddenly become very high, but when they do, it can cause severe changes in the eye.
Other problems with the retina are also more likely, such as:
- Damage to the nerves in the eye (ischemic optic neuropathy), due to poor blood flow
- Blockage of the blood supply in the arteries to the retina (retinal artery occlusion)
- Blockage of the veins that carry blood away from the retina (retinal vein occlusion)
High blood pressure and eye disease Symptoms
Most people with hypertensive retinopathy do not have symptoms until late in the disease.
Symptoms may include:
- Double vision, dim vision, or vision loss
Sudden symptoms are a medical emergency.
Tests and Exams
Your health care provider will use an ophthalmoscope to look for narrowing of the blood vessels and signs that fluid has leaked from blood vessels.
The degree of damage to the retina (retinopathy) is graded on a scale of 1 to 4:
- Grade 1: You may not have symptoms.
- Grades 2-3: There are a number of changes in the blood vessels, leaking from blood vessels, and swelling in other parts of the retina.
- Grade 4: You will have 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.
Treatment of High blood pressure and eye disease
The only treatment for hypertensive retinopathy is to control high blood pressure.
People with grade 4 (severe retinopathy) often have heart and kidney problems due to high blood pressure. They are also at higher risk for stroke.
In most cases, the retina will heal if the blood pressure is controlled. However, some people with grade 4 retinopathy will have lasting damage to the optic nerve or macula.
When to Contact a Health Professional
Get emergency medical treatment if you have high blood pressure with vision changes or headaches.
Rogers AH. Hypertensive retinopathy. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 6.17.
Walsh JB, Rosen RB, Berinstein DM. Systemic hypertension and the eye. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:vol 3, chap 13.
|Review Date: 9/2/2014
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.