How does high blood pressure affect your eye health?

02 August 2022

Author: Kate Green

High blood pressure affects eyes

What is high blood pressure?


It is estimated that 1 in 3 British adults have high blood pressure. An optimal blood pressure reading would be between 90/60 and 120/80 mmHg, and anything over 140/90 mmHg is considered a cause for concern. If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mmHg, it is recommend that you seek urgent medical assistance.


Having high blood pressure affects multiple organs in your body, from your heart and kidneys to your eyes. This is because your blood pushes harder than it should against your artery walls as it pumps around your body, damaging them and some of your organs. The effects of high blood pressure on your eyes are particularly devastating as it can cause irreparable damage to your vision. For this reason, you’ll find that your blood pressure is often taken at a standard eye test as it can provide clues about your eye health.


How does high blood pressure impact your eyes?


High blood pressure can affect your eyes in a number of ways but the main conditions it causes are hypertensive retinopathy, glaucoma, choroidopathy and optic neuropathy.


With hypertensive retinopathy, the blood vessels at the back of your eye become damaged and can cause bleeding inside the eye. In severe cases, this leads to blurred vision and loss of vision, alongside narrowing blood vessels. When the blood vessels in the eye constrict, blood flow to the retina is prevented or reduced significantly, again damaging your vision.


Glaucoma is also associated with high blood pressure as the build-up of fluid in the eye increases your internal eye pressure. People with high blood pressure often have a higher than normal eye pressure too. If left untreated, this increase of eye pressure affects your peripheral vision and can also lead to total blindness.


High blood pressure, in some cases, leads to fluid building up underneath your retina. This is called choroidopathy and can result in blurry vision, distorted vision, and scarring inside the eye. Elevated blood pressure might also lead to optic neuropathy, which is nerve damage inside your eye occurring as a result of the retina’s blood flow being blocked. When this happens, nerve cells inside the eye die, causing vision loss and bleeding.


What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?


Typically, high blood pressure doesn’t actually have any symptoms which is why some people experience high blood pressure which increases over a number of years, only becoming apparent when they suffer a medical emergency such as a stroke or heart attack. This fact itself is a very good argument for regularly having your blood pressure monitored, whether that’s at home on a self-test machine, at a doctor’s check-up, or at an eye test.


When high blood pressure begins to affect your vision, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Double vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Dimming or fading vision


If you do find yourself dealing with any of these, be sure to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Often, treatment can be administered before your vision is permanently affected.


How you can lower your blood pressure?


Most of the ways to lower your blood pressure begin with making lifestyle changes, such as reducing the level of salt in your diet and exercising more. Other methods you can try include:

  • Decreasing your alcohol intake
  • Giving up smoking
  • Removing or minimising stress in your life
  • Losing weight


Beyond these, the only way to reduce your blood pressure is to take medication. If you have particularly high blood pressure and have found no success lowering it with the lifestyle changes mentioned above, you will likely be recommended to take medication.


What increases your risk of higher blood pressure?


There are a number of risk factors that increase your chance of developing high blood pressure. One of these is your gender – men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women. Age is also a factor, as once you’re over the age of 60, your risk increases too. Your race also impacts your likelihood of developing high blood pressure, with people of African or black Caribbean descent more likely to have it. Above all, however, your predisposition to high blood pressure is inherited and if it’s something that you know runs in your family, you should be especially aware of the ways in which it can impact your vision.


When should you see a doctor?


You should always visit your optician if you notice any changes to your vision, and especially if you suddenly experience double vision, dimming vision, or any loss of vision. You should also seek medical assistance if you begin experiencing headaches. These can all be signs of extremely high blood pressure and must be treated urgently in order to preserve your vision. Aside from this, it’s a good idea to visit your optician at least every two years – but ideally every year – in order to monitor your eye health and detect any potential vision issues for treatment, before they become more serious problems.


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