Retinal Vein Occlusion

Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey | Published on June 29, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Retinal Vein Occlusion?

Retinal vein occlusion is a blockage in one of the veins returning blood flow from the retina. The retina is where images are converted to nerve signals. There is a main retinal vein as well as branch veins that supply blood and oxygen to different areas of the retina. Blockages can affect any of them. They are often caused by blood clots.

An occlusion can cause blood or other fluids to build up in the retina. This impairs the retina’s ability to filter light. A sudden loss of vision can occur. The severity will depend on which vein is blocked.

This condition is relatively uncommon with an incidence of about 2 cases per 1000 of general population. It mostly occurs in people over age 60 (Acher & Tossounis, 2009).

What Causes Retinal Vein Occlusion?

Blockages are more common in people with narrowed or damaged blood vessels. This includes people with:

  • atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • glaucoma (optic nerve damage, usually caused by increased pressure)
  • macular edema (fluid leakage in the retina)
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • age over 60
  • smoking
  • blood disorders that affect clotting

Symptoms of Retinal Vein Occlusion

The primary symptom of retinal vein occlusion is a sudden painless change in vision. You will usually experience partial to complete vision loss in one eye.

Diagnosing Retinal Vein Occlusion

This condition is diagnosed with a comprehensive eye exam. This includes vision and pressure checks. The surfaces and vessels of your eye will also be examined.

Your doctor may also perform blood tests for:

  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • clotting disorders

Preventing Retinal Vein Occlusion

Retinal vein occlusion is caused by vascular issues. You can reduce your risk by protecting your blood vessels. Helpful lifestyle and dietary changes include:

  • exercising
  • losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting smoking
  • controlling diabetes
  • taking aspirin or other blood thinners, if prescribed by a doctor

Treating Retinal Vein Occlusion

Often, this condition does not need treatment. Many patients will regain most of their vision with time.

Blockages cannot be removed. Any treatment focuses on reducing the risk of a recurrence. Treatments include:

  • adopting healthy lifestyle habits
  • blood pressure medication
  • cholesterol medication
  • improved diabetes control
  • laser surgery for abnormal vessel growth in the eye

Complications of an occlusion, such as macular edema, may also be treated directly.

Outlook After a Retinal Vein Occlusion

The outlook for this condition depends on its severity. Many people will recover and regain most of their vision. However, it is possible that not all of your vision will return.

Those with other eye conditions or complications are less likely to recover fully. Work with your eye doctor to maximize your eye health. Regular checkups can help prevent further problems.

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