High blood pressure is one of the most common medical conditions among adults in the United States. More than one-fourth of American adults are being treated for this condition, and the risks for serious medical problems due to high blood pressure are high. Heart failure and kidney disease are associated with high blood pressure, but did you know your eyes can be affected as well? Continue reading to learn more about how high blood pressure can affect your eye health and your vision.
Over time, high blood pressure causes damage to the walls of blood vessels throughout the body. If blood pressure if poorly controlled, the condition can affect the vessels in the retina, the tissue in the back of the eye that allows us to receive visual input. Damage to these blood vessels is called hypertensive retinopathy. In the early stages of hypertensive retinopathy, the vessels are narrowed and blood flow to the retina can be affected. As the disease progresses, areas of the retina may stop receiving an adequate amount of blood and retinal tissue can become ischemic, or starved for oxygen. The vessels can leak blood or proteins, and retinal tissue can become swollen or damaged. In the most severe cases of hypertensive retinopathy, the optic nerve can become swollen due to inadequate blood flow. If a severe case of hypertensive retinopathy is seen, it is indicative of dangerously high blood pressure and is considered a medical emergency.
Symptoms of Hypertensive Retinopathy
Most mild or moderate cases of hypertensive retinopathy do not have any significant visual symptoms and may only be detected through a routine eye examination. By looking at the retina and evaluating blood vessels, your eye doctor can determine if high blood pressure has caused any damage to the back of the eye. Because the changes can occur without symptoms, it is very important to have your eyes regularly examined.
In severe cases of hypertensive retinopathy where the retina is swollen or damaged, visual symptoms can include blurred or distorted vision, and systemic symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, or shortness of breath. If you or a loved one experiences the combination of blurred vision and systemic symptoms, it warrants a prompt medical evaluation.
Other Risks of High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
High blood pressure can increase the risk of other ocular conditions that can result in significant vision loss. Retinal blood clots or “strokes” in the eye are more likely in those with poorly controlled blood pressure. High blood pressure can also increase the risk of optic neuropathy, in which blood flow is blocked to the optic nerve and permanent vision loss can occur. Hypertension can even be a risk factor for the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Preventing Hypertensive Retinopathy
The best way to prevent damage to the eyes from hypertension is to properly control high blood pressure. Taking medications for high blood pressure as directed is essential in maintaining appropriate blood pressure levels. Controlling your diet, including limiting salt intake and reducing fat consumption, is important, and regular exercise is another important factor. If you have high blood pressure, consider investing in an automatic blood pressure cuff so you can monitor your levels at home. As with any health condition, it is important to regularly communicate with your primary care doctor regarding treatment and management.
THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE LOOKING FOR AN EYE EXAM NEAR ME OR EYE DOCTOR IN WILMINGTON, DE THAT HAS ADVANCED KNOWLEDGE OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, HYPERTENSION, AND HYPERTENSIVE RETINOPATHY, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE GREAT EYE DOCTORS AND OPTOMETRISTS AT WILMINGTON FAMILY EYE CARE! YOU CAN SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT ONLINE OR CALL (302) 999-1286. WE PROVIDE COMPREHENSIVE EYE EXAMS TO WILMINGTON, NEWARK, NEW CASTLE, CLAYMONT AND OTHER NEARBY DELAWARE AREAS!