Often people know that high blood pressure can cause a stroke or heart attack, but fewer realize that high blood pressure can be a major contributor to vision loss. High blood pressure can damage the veins in the eye.
Two conditions caused in part by high blood pressure are Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion and Central Retinal Vein Occlusion. BRVO blocks tiny veins in the retina. If they are the ones that supply blood to the macula which is responsible for vision directly in front of the eyes, central vision can be lost.
Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion (BRVO) causes macular edema or swelling in sixty percent of the cases. Many people have the macular edema up to three years before the symptoms spontaneously disappear. There is no cure.
Central Retinal Vein Occlusion differs from BRVO in that it blocks the main vein of the retina. Excess fluid and blood leak into the retina. As the fluid gathers, blurred vision occurs. Tiny, dark “floaters” can be present in the vision.
Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion can lead to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) which can contribute to macular edema. Recently, therapy has consisted of ant-VEGF injections in the eye. The most popular drugs used are Lucentis and Avastin, both made by the drug company Genentech in San Francisco.
Avastin is also used in the treatment of cancer. The safety of Avastin use over time is undetermined for although it is used to treat colon cancer, it can also cause stroke. Because it has not been ADA-approved for the treatment of eye disease, it is currently off-label. It is not affordable to those people with lower incomes and Lucentis is three times as expensive.
Injections are given monthly over a long period of time and in many cases, the progress in restored sight cannot be maintained.
So what can a person do who wakes up one morning with either severely-distorted or blurred vision, or both?
Get a diagnosis from an ophthalmologist. If it is decided that vision can be treated after administering a test using an Amsler Grid which determines the location of the vision loss, the patient will be asked to see a retina specialist. Shots will be offered. After three months, tests can be done to determine if there are any complications. If there are, laser treatments or surgery may be offered.
Although many people with Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion develop it because of their anatomy, tests should be done to determine if the individual has high blood pressure or cardiovascular complications. These tests will assist in the prevention of another BRVO which in a few cases can occur again in the same eye or the other eye within the next five years.
Take steps to lower blood pressure. This process would include taking medication, addressing weight issues that may be present and finding ways to manage stress.
In conclusion, a BRVO can be viewed as a wake-up call to take better care of the body. Heeded, it can be a reason for optimism if steps are taken to manage the causes of the disease. These steps can lead to better long-term health.