Hypertensive retinopathy is damage to theretina 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.
See also: Diabetic retinopathy
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:
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:
Fluorescein angiography may be used to examine the blood vessels.
Controlling high blood pressure (hypertension) is the only treatment for hypertensive retinopathy.
See also: 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.
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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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.