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Retinal artery occlusion

Contents of this page:



Alternative Names    Return to top

Central retinal artery occlusion; Branch retinal artery occlusion; CRAO; BRAO

Definition    Return to top

Retinal artery occlusion is a blockage of the blood supply in the arteries to the retina -- the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye.

Causes    Return to top

Retinal arteries may become blocked by a blood clot or substances (such as fat or plaque) that get stuck in the arteries. These blockages may occur due to hardening of the arteries in the eye.

Also, clots may travel from other parts of the body and block an artery in the retina. A common source of a clot would be from the carotid artery in the neck or from the heart lining.

Most clots are caused by conditions such as:

If a branch of the retinal artery is blocked, part of the artery will not have enough blood and oxygen. If this happens, you may lose part of your vision.

Retinal artery blockage or occlusions may last from only a few seconds to a few minutes. They also may cause permanent vision loss. The amount of vision loss is partly related to the location of the blockage.

People with retinal arterial occlusion, whether it is temporary or permanent, have a risk of stroke because clots may also move to the brain.

Retinal vessel occlusion more often affects older people. Risk factors are related to the disorders that cause the blockage.

Symptoms    Return to top

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Tests to evaluate the retina may include:

Tests to identify the source of a clot from another part of the body:

Other tests may include:

Treatment    Return to top

Breathing in (inhaling) a carbon dioxide-oxygen mixture has been used to treat blockages in the arteries. This treatment causes the arteries of the retina to widen (dilate). It may allow the clot to move down the artery and sometimes break up, which reduces the area of the retina that is affected.

The health care provider should look for the cause of the blockage. Blockages may be signs of a life-threatening medical problem. Patients with retinal artery occlusions should be screened for:

The use of the clot-busting drug, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), within a few hours of retinal artery occlusion may be helpful.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

People with blockages of the retinal artery may not get their vision back.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you have sudden blurring or vision loss.

Prevention    Return to top

Measures used to prevent other blood vessel (vascular) diseases, such as coronary artery disease, may decrease the risk of retinal artery occlusion. These include:

Aspirin is commonly used to prevent the artery from becoming blocked again. It is also helpful to control atrial fibrillation.

References    Return to top

Vortmann M, Schneider JI. Acute monocular visual loss. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2008;26:73-96.

Pokhrel PK, Loftus SA. Ocular emergencies. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76:829-836.

Update Date: 4/22/2008

Updated by: Andrew A. Dahl, MD, F.A.C.S., Director of Ophthalmology Training, Institute for Family Health, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, New York College of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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