High Blood Pressure and Your Retina

Download a pamphlet on High Blood Pressure and Your Retina in English

Download a pamphlet on High Blood Pressure and Your Retina in Spanish

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can affect your body and eyes in many ways. It is important to know what your blood pressure is and to maintain good control of it.

What your ophthalmologist sees inside your eyes

When your ophthalmologist examines your retina, they can directly see your retinal blood vessels. The appearance of these vessels and your retina are excellent markers of the overall health of your body’s blood vessel system. In fact, the retina is the only place in the body where your physician can directly see your blood vessels. The retina is one of the organs most sensitive to sustained hypertension. Subjected to high blood pressure over time the retinal blood vessels can become damaged and leak.

Elevated Blood Pressure Can Cause Changes in Your Retina

  • Bleeding
  • Edema and swelling of your retina
  • Exudation and buildup of protein and lipids in the retina
  • Small infarctions of the retina, also known as “cotton wool spots”
  • Arteriosclerosis: arteriolar narrowing, artery-vein crossing changes (also known as “AV nicking”), changes in the color of arterioles and in advanced cases sclerosis of the blood vessels
  • Optic nerve swelling and blurred vision
  • Severe cases of hypertension may result in blockages of the retinal veins or arteries. These blockages of circulation (called occlusions), can cause severe loss of vision or even blindness.