Hypertensive Retinopathy

What is hypertensive retinopathy?

Hypertensive retinopathy is a complication of high blood pressure. Persistent, untreated high blood pressure can cause damage to the retina (the back of the eye, responsible for receiving images for vision). Older people are most commonly affected. The common symptoms include double or dim vision, loss of vision and headache. The only way of treating hypertensive retinopathy is controlling the high blood pressure through lifestyle changes, medicines and regular checkups. With good blood pressure control, the damage can be stopped and may slowly heal.

Risks

Hypertensive retinopathy is caused due to high blood pressure. Persistent, untreated high blood pressure causes damage to the fine blood vessels and tissues in the back of the eye. With time, these can bleed or block. The chance of damage to the retina increases with the severity of the high blood pressure and the length of time that a person has had high blood pressure. Older people are most commonly affected by this condition.

Symptoms

Most people will only develop symptoms after there has been significant damage to the retina. The symptoms usually come on over time, and include double vision, cloudy vision, and, eventually, a loss of vision. Some people also suffer headaches. If these symptoms come on very quickly, it can be a sign of severely high blood pressure, and should be considered a medical emergency.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made by an experienced doctor or ophthalmologist (eye doctor) based on the symptoms, vision changes and examination of the eye in a person who has high blood pressure.

Treatment

Hypertensive retinopathy is treated by controlling the high blood pressure. This can be done with lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking, losing weight, taking regular exercise and making dietary changes, as well as with medication. These measures allow healing of the retina and stop further damage from occuring.

Prevention

Prevention is possible by maintaining good control of high blood pressure and, if relevant, diabetes. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and giving up smoking, can also help to prevent this condition. People with high blood pressure should be regularly screened (checked without symptoms) for eye disease.

Other Names for hypertensive retinopathy

  • Fundus hypertonicus