The Cleveland Clinic

Hypertension: High Blood Pressure and Eye Disease

In addition to causing heart and kidney problems, untreated hypertension can also affect your eyesight. Hypertension can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the area at the back of the eye where images focus. This condition is known as hypertensive retinopathy. The damage can be serious if hypertension is not treated.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypertensive Retinopathy?

Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Vision problems

How Is Hypertensive Retinopathy Diagnosed?

An eye care professional can diagnose hypertensive retinopathy. The professional will use an ophthalmoscope, an instrument that projects light, to examine the back of your eyeball. Signs of retinopathy include:

  • Narrowing of blood vessels
  • Fluid oozing from the blood vessels
  • Spots on the retina known as cotton wool spots and hard exudates
  • Swelling of the macula and optic nerve
  • Bleeding in the back of the eye

The eye care professional can also use a test called fluorescein angiography to diagnose retinopathy. With this method, a dye is injected into your vein. When the dye reaches your eye, the doctor takes photographs of the retina to evaluate the circulation to determine if there is any blockage or leakage.

How Is Hypertensive Retinopathy Treated?

The only way to treat hypertensive retinopathy is to have your doctor diagnose and treat the hypertension.

Can Hypertensive Retinopathy Be Prevented?

To prevent hypertensive retinopathy, keep your blood pressure in control by changing your diet, exercising more, and taking your high blood pressure medications. In addition, see your doctor on a regular basis for follow-up care.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center.

Edited by Cynthia Haines, MD, WebMD, September 2004.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 8:56:17 AM