Hypertension and Your Eyes
According to Blood Pressure UK, one in three adults (16 million) have high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension. What's more concerning is that many people are unaware of their condition or do not believe it's a health danger, which is absolutely untrue. Hypertension has the potential to cause problems throughout the body, but also poses a significant threat to your eyes and vision due to the tiny blood vessels involved and the delicate pressure balance required to keep eye tissue healthy and functional.
Does Hypertension Affect the Eyes?
In a word, yes. Not only can high blood pressure lead to a condition called hypertensive retinopathy, it also places you at risk for other eye diseases and conditions such as:
While there are absolutely genetic and lifestyle factors that increase your chances of developing these problems, having high blood pressure will exacerbate them and make the consequences far worse than if you had average blood pressure readings.
What Diseases Does High Blood Pressure Make Worse?
In addition to the eye diseases listed above, high blood pressure also makes other diseases worse. Like a chain reaction, obesity can lead to high blood pressure which can complicate diabetes which can in turn affect the eyes, brain, tissues of the extremities and more. Any disease that compromises the vascular system, from a benign heart murmur to a history of cardiac issues, will definitely be made worse by the presence of hypertension.
Can My Optometrist Tell If I Have High Blood Pressure?
Whether or not the signs of hypertension have progressed to the point of leaving visible traces your optometrist can see will largely depend on just how high your blood pressure is, how long it has been high and whether or not any damage has been done.
If you have temporary high blood pressure from a huge meal of salty, MSG-laden food, there will likely be no damage and no way to tell without using a blood pressure cuff to record your pressure. If you have chronic high blood pressure, however, it's likely your optometrist can see the vascular changes in your eyes when he or she conducts your examination.
Of course, you should never depend on your optometrist to monitor your blood pressure. Everyone should have their blood pressure monitored by their general practice doctor at least once every two years after the age of 20. More frequent monitoring may be needed if your doctor thinks it necessary, due to your weight, family history, ethnicity or other risk factors. If high blood pressure runs in your family, don't wait for your doctor to begin monitoring; bring it up yourself the next time you are in for a routine checkup.
Are There Symptoms for Eye Problems Stemming from Hypertension?
Most individuals cannot tell they have hypertension, which is one of the reasons the disease is known as a silent killer. However, extremely high pressure can have visual symptoms such as pain in the globe (eyeball), doubling vision, blurred vision or halos around lights. If you experience any of these symptoms, you want to be treated as soon as possible as pressure that high can lead to a stroke, a cardiac event or another life-threatening complication within a very short span of time. These same symptoms can also be hallmarks of other life-altering health emergencies, so you will want to call the emergency department right away if you experience them for the first time. Keep in mind that there's no need to panic, as it's always possible these symptoms are being caused by a benign factor such as a migraine or cluster headache, but they should never be ignored.
What Are the Treatments for Hypertension?
There are two primary ways your doctor will treat your hypertension: lifestyle and medications.
Lifestyle changes such as incorporating more exercise into your routines and reducing your salt intake can do wonders to lower high blood pressure readings. If you are overweight or obese, losing the extra pounds can also bring your blood pressure down into the normal ranges and allow you to avoid the related health issues the diagnosis carries with it.
Medication options for hypertension encompass a wide variety of drug varieties, including:
- Diuretics to remove excess water from your body.
- Beta blockers to reduce the demands on your heart and circulatory system.
- ACE inhibitors that stop constriction and keep your blood vessels open and relaxed.
- Calcium channel blockers to slow your heart rate or affect other changes to your cardiac rhythm.
All of these treatment options strike at the source of the problem and help protect your heart, liver, kidneys and other organs from damage caused by hypertension. Your eyes are not the sole beneficiaries of successful treatment, as high blood pressure also poses a risk to your entire body.
High blood pressure can be a silent but very detrimental condition. Luckily, careful monitoring, lifestyle changes and medication adjustments can remove some of the risk and help you avoid major complications. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension or you have a family history that makes you worry you may develop it in the future, tell your doctor today.
Are contact lenses safe for people with high blood pressure?
We are often asked if contact lenses are safe for clients with hypertension. Contact Lenses are completely safe to use if you have hypertension, and will not effect your blood pressure in any way.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 19 Mar 2017, Last modified: 17 Jul 2019