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High Blood Pressure and Retina Problems

The retina is the lining at the back of the eye that senses light coming into your eye. The retina has small blood vessels that can be affected if you have high blood pressure that is not well controlled.

If your blood pressure is not treated, it can cause a loss of vision that may be permanent.

What is the cause?

Problems with your retina can happen if your high blood pressure has not been well controlled for a long time, or if your blood pressure suddenly increases. High blood pressure may start out by making the blood vessels in the retina more narrow. As the condition gets worse, you may have bleeding in the retina, and swelling in your optic nerve. The optic nerve sends pictures to the brain.

What are the symptoms?

Early stages may not cause symptoms. As it gets worse, you may have blurry vision or headaches.

How is it diagnosed?

Your eye care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history, check your blood pressure, and do exams and tests such as:

  • An exam using a microscope with a light attached, called a slit lamp, to look closely at the front and back of your eye
  • An exam using drops to enlarge, or dilate, your pupils and a light to look into the back of your eyes
  • An eye test in which a camera takes pictures of the blood vessels inside your eye after dye is injected into a vein in your arm
  • An eye pressure test, which uses a small puff of air that is blown against your open eye or a device that briefly touches your eye to measure the pressure inside your eye
  • A visual field test, which uses spots of light to measure your central vision and how well you see things on all sides

How is it treated?

If you are diagnosed with retinal problems, you need to work with your healthcare provider to get your blood pressure under control. This may include changing your diet, getting more exercise, and possibly taking medicine. Severe high blood pressure can also damage your heart and kidneys.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I prevent high blood pressure and retina problems?

Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal and family medical history and your lifestyle habits. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to lower your blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle may help. For example:

  • Eat a healthy diet and keep a healthy weight.
  • Stay fit with the right kind of exercise for you.
  • Learn to manage stress.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.

Let your eye care provider know that you have high blood pressure and what medicines you take.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-27
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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