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Retinal Vein Occlusion

Retinal vein occlusion (RVO) is the blockage of a vein in the retina. Mainly caused by hardening of the arteries, it's the third most common condition that retina specialists treat.

You may RVO if you suddenly have blurry vision or completely lose sight in one eye. Fortunately, early treatment of RVO can help lower your chance of vision loss.

Call the UPMC Vision Institute to make an appointment or learn more about RVO at 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

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What Is Retinal Vein Occlusion (RVO)?

Your retina is the part of your eye that collects light and sends it to your brain so you can see. It needs blood flow like all organs in the body.

Arteries bring blood into the retina and veins take the blood back out. RVO happens when a vein becomes blocked.

A blocked vein in the retina can:

  • Impair blood flow.
  • Decrease oxygen.
  • Cause new, abnormal, and damaging blood vessels to grow.

RVO causes sudden blurry vision or complete vision loss, but only in one eye in most cases.

What are the types of RVO?

There are two types:

  • Branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) is a blockage of just part of the blood flow, not the main vein.
  • Central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) is a blockage in the retinal vein located at the optic nerve.

How serious is retinal vein occlusion?

Blockage of your eye veins can be serious. RVO is one of the most common blinding conditions in the U.S.

Without treatment, RVO can lead to permanent vision loss.

What causes retinal vein occlusion?

Blockages occur when hardened arteries place pressure on a retinal vein and cause both CRVO and BRVO.

Hardening of the arteries in the retina:

  • Is often the result of high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Causes blood vessels in the eye to fill with plaque and become narrow. When that happens, the blood can't flow through them normally, and the pressure builds.
  • Puts pressure on the vein, causing congestion.

Blockages can also happen in the retinal artery, called retinal artery occlusion (RAO). It's more likely due to a blood clot.

If you're under 40 and have RAO, your doctor will do tests to check for blood clots.

What are the risk factors and complications of retinal vein occlusion?

RVO risk factors

People over 50 are more likely to have retinal vein or artery occlusion.

Other risks include:

  • Hardening of the arteries.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Blood clotting disorders.

Retinal vein occlusion complications

RVO may cause other eye problems, such as:

  • Glaucoma.
  • Macular edema (swelling) from fluid leaking out of the retina.
  • Partial or total vision loss in the affected eye. But proper treatment should prevent vision loss.
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Retinal Vein Occlusion Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the signs and symptoms of RVO?

RVO symptoms vary. Some people don't have any symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Others have:

  • Blurry vision in part or all of one eye.
  • New floaters, dark spots, lines, or squiggles in the field of vision.

If you have any of the symptoms above, you should see an eye doctor right away. Early treatment is vital to preserving your vision.

It's important to note that sudden vision loss is not a symptom of RVO. If you have sudden vision loss, seek emergency medical treatment.

How do you diagnose RVO?

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and give you a complete eye exam.

Common tests your doctor may use include:

  • Goinoscopy to see if fluid is properly draining out of your eye.
  • Fluorescein angiography to learn the amount of damage to your eye.
  • Visual field test to assess your peripheral vision.
  • Optical coherence tomography to check the thickness of the retina.

These retinal imaging tests will let your eye doctor check the retina and make a diagnosis.

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What Are the Treatment Options for Retinal Vein Occlusion?

Catching and treating RVOs early helps lower your chance of vision loss.

Although doctors can't reverse the occlusion, they can help stop further eye problems like glaucoma. They can also treat systemic factors - like diabetes and heart disease - that increase your risks.

Your doctor will prescribe treatment based on how severe your symptoms are.

RVO treatment options include:

  • Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) shots. Your doctor may inject your eye with anti-VEGF drugs. These drugs can help stop the growth of new blood vessels that lead to glaucoma. You may need follow-up treatments.
  • Steroid medicines. These can calm swelling in the eye, which may help improve vision.
  • Focal laser treatment. A laser makes tiny burns in the retina. This treatment reduces the chance of bleeding and prevents the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels.

Is there a cure for RVO?

There's no cure for retinal vein or artery occlusions. But treatment may improve your vision and keep your symptoms from getting worse.

It's vital to see your eye doctor if you notice any blurry vision.

You have the best chance of preserving your sight if your doctor catches RVO early.

Is retinal vein occlusion a stroke?

No, RVO is not a stroke.

In a stroke, an artery to the brain gets blocked or bursts, causing life-threatening consequences.

An "eye stroke" can happen because of a blocked artery or vein, causing a change or loss of vision in one eye.

The risk factors for RVO are also the same as for stroke. So, for your overall health, it's crucial to manage your weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

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Contact the UPMC Vision Institute

To plan a visit with a UPMC eye doctor for RVO or other eye problems, call 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.