How Serious Are Retinal Vascular Diseases and Am I at Risk?
Our bodies are complex, with numerous systems working together to keep us as healthy and functioning as possible. If one system suffers from injury, disease, or aging, it can have an impact on the other systems as well. One example of this is how our eyes function in coordination with our bodies’ vascular system. The retina (a layer of thin tissue located in the back of the eye) has its own vascular system, consisting of the central retinal artery and the central retinal vein.
When this system is impacted by disease, there can be damaging effects on the retina and as such, a person’s ability to see. It is important for patients to be aware of the fact that there are certain risk factors for retinal vascular diseases so proactive steps can be taken (when possible) to prevent vision loss.
What are retinal vascular diseases?
By its most basic definition, a retinal vascular disease is a condition that impacts the blood vessels within the eye. There are different types of retinal vascular diseases, but all have the potential to negatively impact a person’s vision.
Here are the different types of retinal vascular diseases:
- Central Retinal Artery Occlusion (CRAO) - Also referred to as an “eye stroke”, CRAO is when a blood clot forms within the central retinal artery. In this situation, the loss of vision would be both sudden and without pain. Patients between the age of 50 and 70 are at risk, with men having a higher statistical risk than women.
- Branch Artery Occlusion (BRAO) - Similar to CRAO, BRAO occurs when a blood clot forms within one of the branches of the central retinal artery. A loss of the patient’s central vision occurs during BRAO, and there is now an increase in the patient’s risk of a cerebral stroke. Because of this, a BRAO is a clear medical emergency.
- Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO) - This is a blockage within the central retina. The blockage can cause structural damage to the eye’s veins, which can lead to fluid (blood) leaking in the retina. Vision will become blurry, and if left untreated, new but weaker veins will form leading to floaters. CRVO is closely linked to underlying health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion (BRVO) - Smaller blood vessels can begin to branch off from the central retina and become blocked, and this can cause the macula to swell (macular edema). The patient’s central vision will diminish painlessly, becoming distorted/blurry.
It is strongly recommended that patients who are aged 50 and older, have underlying health conditions that are linked to eye conditions, have a family history of eye disease, or are already experiencing symptoms of declining vision or pain, seek a consultation with a retina specialist. Preemptive retinal care is one of the best ways eye diseases can be prevented and/or treated. Many patients who experience vision loss can have their vision repaired or even restored with proper care.