Approximately one quarter of all adults worldwide have high blood pressure (according to GOV.UK).
By 2025, the condition is projected to affect more than 1.5 billion people. This is a very worrying statistic, considering the complications caused by high blood pressure: heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease and vascular dementia, to name just a few.
But there is one more condition to add to that list, which many people are unaware of – eye disease.
We know that high blood pressure puts extra strain on blood vessels and organs. This is because the force and friction of blood in a body with high blood pressure damages the tissues inside the arteries; this leads to a formation of plaque, which narrows the arteries and forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. It’s essentially a vicious cycle, as more and more damage is caused by this process.
There are four branch arteries, and many tiny blood vessels in the eye. These supply oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the retina in order to help your eyes function properly, allowing you to see. They also take away any waste that is produced.
You may have heard of someone breaking a blood vessel on the surface of their eye (a subconjuctival haemorrhage), which causes a tiny blood vessel to rupture through something as small as sneezing. This can easily be repaired by the body and shouldn’t affect eyesight.
However, it can be a timely reminder to get your blood pressure checked as this can sometimes be a factor in the haemorrhage.
Of course, high blood pressure can potentially affect all blood vessels and as we age these vessels can become more fragile and vulnerable to damage with the potential to affect your eyesight. This is called hypertensive retinopathy.
This process is painless, and sometimes happens without warning – as with many complications caused by high blood pressure.
However, you may experience frequent headaches caused by increased blood pressure before any sight loss begins. You may also find that your vision becomes slightly blurry or that you have double vision, or that you lose your vision suddenly and completely.
If hypertensive retinopathy is diagnosed early, you may be able to take medications such as diuretics, beta blockers or ACE inhibitors to help lower your blood pressure and prevent further damage. You may also be able to make lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure naturally, such as losing weight, exercising and eating well, and reducing stress.
However, if the condition is advanced and you have suffered a complete retinal artery occlusion, vision loss may be permanent.
Regular eye checks are crucial to help prevent hypertensive retinopathy. Your optician will be able to check your eye health and pressure in a very quick and painless test, enabling them to diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment plan to get you on the road to recovery.
Know Your Numbers! is a national event held by Blood Pressure UK, which raises awareness of the importance of regular blood pressure checks.
Taking place every September, the event aims to educate people on the complications that could result from high blood pressure and helps those who already have high blood pressure get treatment.
Each year, as part of the event, volunteers offer free blood pressure tests throughout the country to help the public get to ‘know their numbers’ and monitor their blood pressure.
Due to social distancing measures in 2020, Blood Pressure UK won’t be able to offer free pressure checks in their community Pressure Stations; however, they are offering a free resources hub which provides people with the information they need to confidently and comfortably measure their own blood pressure at home.
At the OCCS, we feel that events such as Know Your Numbers! are essential in raising awareness of debilitating conditions, especially those that could affect something as precious as your vision.
If you have concerns about your vision, you should make an appointment to see your optician as soon as possible.