Hypertensive retinopathy

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Hypertensive retinopathy
Hypertensive retinopathy with AV nicking and mild vascular tortuosity
Classification and external resources
Specialty ophthalmology
ICD-10 H35.0
ICD-9-CM 362.11
MedlinePlus 000999
MeSH D058437

Hypertensive retinopathy is damage to the retina and retinal circulation due to high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension).


The changes in hypertensive retinopathy result from damage and adaptive changes in the arterial and arteriolar circulation in response to the high blood pressure.[citation needed]


Most patients with hypertensive retinopathy present no visual symptoms. However, some may report decreased vision or headaches.[citation needed]


Signs of damage to the retina caused by hypertension include:

  • Arteriolar changes, such as generalized arteriolar narrowing, focal arteriolar narrowing, arteriovenous nicking, changes in the arteriolar wall (arteriosclerosis) and abnormalities at points where arterioles and venules cross. Manifestations of these changes include Copper wire arterioles where the central light reflex occupies most of the width of the arteriole and Silver wire arterioles where the central light reflex occupies all of the width of the arteriole, and "arterio-venular (AV) nicking" or "AV nipping", due to venous constriction and banking.
  • advanced retinopathy lesions, such as microaneurysms, blot hemorrhages and/or flame hemorrhages, ischemic changes (e.g. "cotton wool spots"), hard exudates and in severe cases swelling of the optic disc (optic disc edema), a ring of exudates around the retina called a "macular star" and visual acuity loss, typically due to macular involvement.

Mild signs of hypertensive retinopathy can be seen quite frequently in normal people (3–14% of adult individuals aged ≥40 years), even without hypertension.[1]

Keith Wagener Barker (KWB) Grades[edit]

Grade 1
Arteriolar constriction/attenuation/sclerosis -`silver wiring` and vascular tortuosities
Grade 2
As grade 1 + Irregularly located, tight constrictions - Known as `AV nicking` or `AV nipping`
Grade 3
As grade 2 + Retinal edema, cotton wool spots and flame-hemorrhages
Grade 4
As grade 3 + optic disc edema + macular star

There is an association between the grade of retinopathy and mortality. In a classic study in 1939 Keith and colleagues[2] described the prognosis of people with differing severity of retinopathy. They showed 70% of those with grade 1 retinopathy were alive after 3 years whereas only 6% of those with grade 4 survived.The most widely used modern classification system bears their name.[1] The role of retinopathy grading in risk stratification is debated, but it has been proposed that individuals with signs of hypertensive retinopathy signs, especially retinal hemorrhages, microaneurysms and cotton-wool spots, should be assessed carefully.[1]

Differential Diagnoses[edit]

Several other diseases can result in retinopathy that can be confused with hypertensive retinopathy. These include diabetic retinopathy, retinopathy due to autoimmune disease, anemia, radiation retinopathy, central retinal vein occlusion.[citation needed]

Treatment and management[edit]

A major aim of treatment is to prevent, limit, or reverse target organ damage by lowering the patient's high blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Anti-hypertensive drug treatment may be required to control the high blood pressure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wong TY, Mcintosh R (2005). "Hypertensive retinopathy signs as risk indicators of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality". British Medical Bulletin. 73-74: 57–70. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldh050. PMID 16148191. 
  2. ^ Keith NM, Wagener HP, Barker NW (1939) Some different types of essential hypertension: their course and prognosis. Am J Med Sci, 197, 332–43.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Wills Eye Manual: Office and Emergency Room Diagnosis and Treatment of Eye Disease, J.B. Lippincott, 1994.
  • Hypertensive retinopathy