What is hypertension?

Hypertension, another name for high blood pressure, can lead to heart attack, kidney problems, stroke and other severe health issues. This is because blood pressure is the force exerted by your blood against the walls of your blood vessels as it pumps around your body. The higher your blood pressure the more likely it is to cause damage to them.

It is well known that hypertension can cause heart attacks and strokes, but did you know that it can also affect your eyes?

Tiny, delicate vessels supply blood to your eyes. Hypertension can damage these vessels in the retina, the area at the back of your eye, where images focus. This can lead to bleeding, blurred vision or even complete loss of vision. This condition is called hypertensive retinopathy.

Hypertension can also cause choroidopathy. This is where fluid builds up under your retina because of a leaky blood vessel located under the retina. It can result in distorted vision or in some cases scarring that impairs vision.  Nerve damage to the optic nerve is known as optic neuropathy, potentially leading to distorted/loss of vision and/or loss of colour vision.

What are the symptoms?

Some people may suffer from headaches or vision problems, however most people won’t experience any symptoms. Any effects of hypertension are usually discovered during a routine eye exam. This is why it is extremely important to have regular eye tests especially if, alongside having high blood pressure, you have diabetes or if you are pregnant.

How is hypertensive retinopathy diagnosed?

We can find hypertensive retinopathy using a Volk (slit lamp), an instrument that projects light to examine the back of your eyeball. We look for:

  • Narrowing of blood vessels
  • Spots on the retina known as cotton wool spots and exudates
  • Swelling of the macula (the central area of the retina) and optic nerve
  • Bleeding in the back of the eye

If you are diagnosed with hypertensive retinopathy then the best way to treat it is to keep your blood pressure under control.

Can hypertensive retinopathy be prevented?

The best way to prevent hypertensive retinopathy is to maintain control of your blood pressure. You can help achieve this by:

  • reaching and maintaining your optimal weight
  • sticking with a diet recommended by your doctor
  • exercising regularly
  • taking your high blood pressure medications as prescribed
  • seeing your doctor and optician on a regular basis for follow-up care
If you have high blood pressure and are concerned it may be affecting your eyes, then please book an appointment with us.
If you have recently noticed any of these symptoms, please call the practice on (0118) 981 0267 – you may be entitled to a FREE consultation.