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How Does High Blood Pressure Effect Your Eyes?

Blood pressure is a measurement of how hard your heart must work to pump blood out to the body. It calculates the volume of blood leaving your heart by the resistance it faces when it leaves.  There are many contributing factors to make up this number. How healthy is your heart? How much blood volume do you have? Have you lost blood recently, like through a major surgery? How strong and flexible are your arteries? How old are you? What gender are you? Does high blood pressure run in your family? What is your diet like? How much stress are you under? The answers to all these questions inform your blood pressure readings.

What’s Normal for You?

High blood pressure (or hypertension) is a health condition that can go undetected for a long time. There aren’t always noticeable symptoms so it’s important to get it checked regularly, especially if you have a family history of hypertension or other elevated risk factors. It is normal to have your blood pressure fluctuate throughout the day, and it can become elevated periodically if you are nervous, you’ve consumed stimulants like coffee, or you have a condition like hyperthyroidism.

High Blood Pressure and Your Eye Health

High blood pressure can create issues in many parts of the body, especially in the heart and brain. But did you know it can also have negative effects on your eye health as well?  The most common problem is damage to the retina, or the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that changes light and images into nerve signals that are sent to the brain.

When your blood pressure is too high, it can thicken the walls of the blood vessels in the retina. This can lead to restricted blood flow to the retina because your blood vessels become narrower.  In some cases, the retina becomes swollen and over time this can limit the retina’s function and put pressure on the optic nerve, causing vision problems. This condition is called hypertensive retinopathy.

If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to have regular eye exams because you may not experience noticeable symptoms in mild to moderate cases of hypertensive retinopathy. Only your eye health care professional will be able to detect the early signs and offer treatment options. If you experience eye swelling, reduced vision or double vision with headaches make an appointment as soon as possible as these are symptoms of more severe hypertensive retinopathy.

An instrument called an ophthalmoscope makes the back of the eyeball visible to your eye care professional. They might see swelling of the macula and optic nerve, spots on the retina, bleeding in the back of the eye and narrowing of blood vessels.

There are other eye health concerns that can arise from high blood pressure as well. A condition where fluid builds up under the retina, called choroidopathy, can distort your vision and cause scarring in your eye. Optic neuropathy or nerve damage is the result of restricted or blocked blood flow to the optic nerve. This can lead to bleeding in the eye and vision loss.

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure, getting regular exercise and reducing sodium intake can help to reduce your risk of developing hypertensive retinopathy and other blood pressure related conditions. Consuming foods rich in nutrients like lutein, zeaxanthin and antioxidants like vitamin C can also support your eye health.

High blood pressure can sneak up on you. Regular checks are the best way to know what’s normal for you and be alerted to any changes that might be cause for concern. Protecting your eye health and vision may depend on keeping your blood pressure in check so visits to your eye health professional are also crucial. You only get one set of eyes and keeping them in optimal condition means taking a well-rounded approach.

Tips for Checking Your Blood Pressure It’s best to get three separate readings on three separate days in a relaxed environment to begin to establish your normal readings.Make sure the cuff is the right size. It can’t be too big or too small. You should be able to snuggly place two fingers just under the cuff when it’s wrapped around your arm.Positioning is everything! If you are with a practitioner manually taking a reading fully relax your arm, uncross your legs and plant them firmly on the ground. This prevents you from clenching your muscles, and calms and grounds you.Avoid stimulants and hydrate. Make sure to avoid stimulants such as coffee, black tea and sugar. If you’re dehydrated, your reading may appear too low.Get a comparison of both arms, and if you are prone to getting dizzy when you stand up ask to screen for orthostatic hypotension.            

Sources:

Suri, M. F., & Qureshi, A. I. (2008). Hypertensive retinopathy and risk of cardiovascular diseases in a national cohort. Journal of vascular and interventional neurology, 1(3), 75–78.

Tso MO, Jampol LM. Pathophysiology of hypertensive retinopathy. Ophthalmology. 1982 Oct;89(10):1132-45. doi: 10.1016/s0161-6420(82)34663-1. PMID: 7155524.

Chatterjee S, Chattopadhyay S, Hope-Ross M, Lip PL. Hypertension and the eye: changing perspectives. J Hum Hypertens. 2002 Oct;16(10):667-75. doi: 10.1038/sj.jhh.1001472. Erratum in: J Hum Hypertens. 2002 Dec;16(12):901.. Chattopadhya S [corrected to Chattopadhyay S]. PMID: 12420190.

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