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The Connection Between Blood Pressure and Eye Health

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Understanding the correlation between blood pressure and eye health is an important part of being an eye care professional. It’s even more important to help your patients understand this link. Untreated high blood pressure (HBP), in particular, is not only linked to heart disease, stroke, and death, but also to eye diseases or disorders that cause vision loss. What's more troubling is that almost half of adults in the US (108 million, or 45%) have hypertension, which puts them at an increased risk of damaged eye nerves, arteries, and veins. Continue reading to learn more about the connection between blood pressure and eye health.

High Blood Pressure and Eye Health

Blood pressure is grouped as normal, elevated and high. High blood pressure or hypertension is grouped into stage 1, stage 2, and hypertensive crisis. According to Heart.org, blood pressure is considered high if it consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic.

This is important to know because if you have a patient with consistently high blood pressure, there is a risk that this can damage the tiny vessels that supply blood to the retina.

Retinal damage caused by hypertension is called hypertensive retinopathy, an eye disorder that can get serious if high blood pressure remains untreated. Symptoms include bleeding in the back of the eye, double or cloudy vision, swelling in the macula and optic nerve, and complete loss of vision. The longer your patient’s blood pressure remains high, the greater the chance for that patient to develop more severe retinal damage.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

Few people with hypertension experience symptoms. Those who do may have headaches, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, double vision, or vision loss. However, these symptoms are similar to symptoms of other conditions and may not show up until the blood pressure reaches a severe or life-threatening stage. This is why hypertension is referred to as the "silent killer."

Other Eye Diseases and Disorders Caused By Hypertension

Hypertensive retinopathy is the most common eye disease related to high blood pressure levels. However, there is a risk of other diseases that can severely affect vision. They include:

  • Fluid buildup under the retina (Choroidopathy): This is a serious eye disease that develops when fluid leaks from the blood vessel layer and builds up under the retina. The buildup of fluid leads to scarring that distorts or impairs vision.
  • Nerve damage (Ischemic optic neuropathy): A disease that results from optic nerve damage due to poor blood flow to the eyes. The blockage of blood can kill nerve cells in the eyes, which may result in temporary or permanent vision loss.
  • Retinal artery occlusion: Blockage of the arteries that carry blood and oxygen to the nerve cells in the retina. The blockage is caused by a clot or occlusion in one or more of the arteries.
  • Retinal vein occlusion: Blockage of the small veins that take blood away from the retina. This type of blockage is linked to glaucoma and macular swelling.


Risk Factors of HBP-Related Vision Loss

People at risk of vision loss due to long-term hypertension include those who:

  • Smoke
  • Have glaucoma
  • Have diabetes or diabetic retinopathy
  • Have high cholesterol levels
  • Have macular degeneration

Other problems with the retina such as choroidopathy, ischemic optic neuropathy, retinal artery occlusion, and retinal vein occlusion can also increase the risk of vision loss.

Treatment for High Blood Pressure and Retinopathy

Now that you and your patients can see the link between high blood pressure and eye health, it's time to take action. The number one thing to do is to manage your patient’s hypertension. It also goes without saying that treating blood pressure can prevent or stop hypertensive retinopathy.

Eye care professionals commonly prescribe medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel-blockers, and thiazide diuretics to help lower blood pressure. Blood pressure medications can help the retina heal and prevent further damage. Other ways to treat hypertensive retinopathy include lifestyle changes such as:

  • Healthy eating
  • Weight management
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol intake
  • Regular exercise

Although the retina will heal in most cases if blood pressure is controlled, the damage to the optic nerve or macula is usually permanent in patients with grade 4 retinopathy (severe retinopathy)

Questions? Contact Us Today!

For more than 100 years, Keeler has been a leader in the optometric/ophthalmic industry, offering cutting-edge diagnostic equipment and solutions. We offer a vast range of different ophthalmic and optometry supplies and equipment, including: 

We regularly partner with different high-tech ophthalmic solution providers, general medical instrument manufacturers, veterinary diagnostic specialists, and more to provide specialized OEM manufacturing.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.