Many adults have high blood pressure and by the age of 55, more than half of all adults have high blood pressure. Less than half of Americans have their blood pressure under control. The consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure are many throughout the body, and can include damage to almost any organ, including the brain, heart, kidneys, and eyes. An extremely high blood pressure can result in serious damage in a relatively short period of time, even hours. It is important to understand, however, that even a moderately high blood pressure over time can result in serious organ disease as well.
The retina is perfused by a very fine vasculature, that is very fine arteries and veins, which are particulary susceptible to damage from high blood pressure. In many instances, a retinal specialist can note vascular changes consistent with chronic high blood pressure. Prevention of hypertensive disease by early diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure is essential in avoiding unnecessary disease later in life.
Some of the retinal diseases that result from hypertension include vein occlusions and optic nerve damage. Retinal vein occlusions are primarily the result of uncontrolled high blood pressure, although they can result from numerous less common systemic (full body) disorders also. In the simplest of terms, a retinal vein occlusion is a “stroke” in the retina. Patients should understand this point because it is frequently the first vascular event a patient has suffered, and as such can serve as a warning sign to the patient and doctor of possible future heart disease or stroke. When viewed in this way, retinal vein occlusions should stimulate the patient to seriously assess risk factors for vascular disease and institute measures to reduce this risk. Most often the first measure should be to seek evaluation from the primary care doctor to control the blood pressure immediately with medications. This alone can save life and prevent much future disease.