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Can High Blood Pressure Cause Macular Edema?

The macula is the area of the retina located at the back of the eye that is responsible for central vision. At only 5mm, the macula provides most of our color vision and the fine details of what we see. The macula contains a very high concentration of photoreceptor cells. These cells detect light that sends signals to the brain to interpret the images before us. The rest of the retina processes peripheral vision. 

As many as 11 million people in the United States have some form of age-related macular degeneration. Macular disease refers to vision loss in the center of the field of vision. While macular edema is not itself a disease, it is the result of one. Macular edema is the build-up of fluid in the macula that causes the retina to swell up. This swelling creates symptoms of blurred or distorted vision. Macular edema occurs when the retina’s ability to absorb fluid is overwhelmed by the fluid build-up leaking into it. Factors likely to cause macular edema result from conditions that are associated with the growth of abnormal blood vessels (wet age-related macular degeneration), increased inflammation in the eye (caused by previous surgery or inflammatory diseases), and those that cause more fluid to leak from blood vessels (such as diabetes and high blood pressure). So, can high blood pressure cause macular edema? Yes. 

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the retina. Those with high blood pressure are at greater risk for developing a host of retinal diseases including retinopathy and macular edema. When blood pressure is high, the walls of the retina’s blood vessels may thicken causing the vessels to become narrow restricting blood flow to the retina. If this occurs, the retina will swell creating macular edema. 

Fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography are two common diagnostic tests to evaluate macular edema. The most effective treatment strategies for macular edema address the underlying cause, such as high blood pressure. In addition to options available for reducing high blood pressure, corticosteroids are the primary treatment for macular edema to aid in reducing inflammation. Corticosteroids can be administered via eye drops, oral medication or injections in or around the eye. 

Damage to the blood vessels in the retina can lead to bleeding in the eye, blurred vision, and total loss of vision. Routine comprehensive eye exams are the best way to decrease vision impairment risk. Because macular edema and many other diseases related to the retina rarely have visual symptoms in the early stages, it is important to have an ophthalmologist check your eyes annually to test the health of your retina. In addition, reducing blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol along with a healthy diet and exercise will help reduce the development of macular edema. Contact Associated Retina Consultants by 602-242-4928 or WEBISTE to schedule your appointment. 

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