Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a medical condition where the blood pressure – the force exerted against the vessel walls by blood flowing inside it – is above 140/90mmHg (millimetres of mercury). One is said to be diagnosed with hypertension when either one or both readings are high: Above 140mmHg systolic (the pressure of the heart pumping blood around the body) and/or above 90mmHg diastolic (pressure where the heart relaxes and blood fills up the heart).
According to Emirates 24/7 News in January 2014, local health professionals revealed that one in three adults in the UAE suffer from hypertension.
So how is hypertension able to affect one’s vision?
Hypertension can cause hypertensive retinopathy. It damages the blood vessels in the retina, the area at the back of the eye where images are focused and transmitted to the brain. If untreated, hypertension can worsen the damage.
Normally, a person will not be able to experience symptoms related to hypertensive retinopathy; it is usually found during an eye exam. However, some symptoms such as headaches and vision problems can be experienced by a person with hypertension.
How is Hypertensive Retinopathy diagnosed?
An ophthalmoscope is used to project light in order to examine the back of the eyeball. Some of the signs of hypertensive retinopathy include narrowing of blood vessels, bleeding at the back of the eye, fluids oozing from the blood vessels, spots on the retina, and swelling of the optic nerve and the macula (central area of the retina).
The damaged vessels from high blood pressure can lead to bleeding, blurring of vision, and eventually a complete loss of vision.
The leaky blood vessel can also lead to a buildup of fluid under the retina known as choroidopathy. This results in visual distortions and even scarring that impedes vision.
Can Hypertensive Retinopathy be prevented?
To avoid hypertensive retinopathy, keep your blood pressure in check. Regular exercise, sticking to your recommended diet, maintain your optimal weight, and dutifully taking your prescribed blood pressure medications.