Damage to the retina from high blood pressure is called hypertensive retinopathy. It occurs as high blood pressure damages the small blood vessels of the retina. Some of the first findings in the disease are flame hemorrhages and cotton wool spots. As hypertensive retinopathy progresses, hard exudates can appear around the macula along with swelling of the macula and the optic nerve, causing impairment of vision. In severe cases permanent damage to the optic nerve or macula can occur.
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital.