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Retinal Vein Occlusion

written by: weborglodge • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/30/2010

One possible complication of high blood pressure and diabetes is retinal vein occlusion, most commonly seen in men and women over the age of 50. Smoking also increases your risk of developing this often sudden but painless vision loss.

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    Definition of the Eye Condition

    A retinal vein occlusion is in the simplest terms, an obstruction in one of the retinal veins of your eye. The retina is the portion of your eye that receives light and converts it into nerve impulses which your brain interprets.

    The central retinal vein enters the back of your eye, where it then branches off into tiny veins. Either a branch of the retinal vein or the central vein itself can be affected by an occlusion. The result is that the flow of blood leaving your eye is impacted, leading to hemorrhages and the possible leakage of fluids. It is one of the most common causes of blindness.

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    Diagnosis

    During a normal eye appointment, your doctor can detect the presence of hemorrhages within your retina, which can also be an early indication of high blood pressure using an ophthalmoscope or funduscope. This is the lighted instrument that your doctor will use to examine the health of your eye. This is one reason it is important to have regular eye exams.

    The degree of vision loss will help determine what retinal veins are affected. If vision loss is minor or you are only experiencing blurred vision, a branch retinal vein is most likely impacted. If the vision loss is severe, then the central retinal vein experienced the occlusion.

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    Complications

    The risk of an occlusion is swelling within the eye with its ensuing damage and retinal detachment, both of which can lead to permanent vision loss. Central vein occlusions carry the added risk of developing glaucoma, which can cause pain for the individual and possible loss of the eye itself.

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    Treatment

    As with any condition involving your eyes, prompt diagnosis and treatment are necessary. Once a diagnosis is made, your doctor will continue to monitor the health of your retina as well as any fluid leakage. Laser treatments may help control the onset of the complications of an occlusion. Your doctor may also test you for risk factors such as high blood pressure. Use of steroids, anticoagulants or aspirin may help with blood flow. In severe cases, your doctor may also use retinal photocoagulation or coagulation with laser treatment to prevent further complications.

    Outcomes from the condition will vary, depending upon the vein involved and how widespread the damage is within the retina. Fortunately, the less severe form of branch retinal nerve occlusion is more common. Research is ongoing for possible medical approaches such as use of corticosteroids as treatment options.

    The best prevention is to live a healthy lifestyle so that you may reduce your chances of developing a condition that puts you at greater risk. Exercise and a good diet can help prevent the onset of diabetes and other conditions.

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    References

    Sherwood, Lauralee. Human Physiology: From Cells to Systems. 2008

    Natural Eye Care: Central Retinal Vein Occlusion -- http://www.naturaleyecare.com/diseases.asp?d_num=26