Learn About Retinal Artery Occlusion

What is the definition of Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Retinal artery occlusion is a blockage in one of the small arteries that carry blood to the retina. The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of the eye that is able to sense light.

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What are the alternative names for Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Central retinal artery occlusion; CRAO; Branch retinal artery occlusion; BRAO; Vision loss - retinal artery occlusion; Blurry vision - retinal artery occlusion

What are the causes of Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Retinal arteries may become blocked when a blood clot or fat deposits get stuck in the arteries. These blockages are more likely if there is hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in the eye.

Clots may travel from other parts of the body and block an artery in the retina. The most common sources of clots are the heart and carotid artery in the neck.

Most blockages occur in people with conditions such as:

  • Carotid artery disease, in which the two large blood vessels in the neck become narrowed or blocked
  • Diabetes
  • Heart rhythm problem (atrial fibrillation)
  • Heart valve problem
  • High levels of fat in the blood (hyperlipidemia)
  • High blood pressure
  • Intravenous drug abuse
  • Temporal arteritis (damage to arteries due to an immune response)

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

What are the symptoms of Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Sudden blurring or loss of vision may occur in:

  • All of one eye (central retinal artery occlusion or CRAO)
  • Part of one eye (branch retinal artery occlusion or BRAO)

The retinal artery occlusion may last for only a few seconds or minutes, or it may be permanent.

A blood clot in the eye may be a warning sign of clots elsewhere. A clot in the brain may cause a stroke.

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What are the current treatments for Retinal Artery Occlusion?

There is no proven treatment for vision loss that involves the whole eye, unless it is caused by another illness that can be treated.

Several treatments may be tried. To be helpful, these treatments must be given within 2 to 4 hours after symptoms begin. However, the benefit of these treatments has never been proven, and they are rarely used.

  • Breathing in (inhaling) a carbon dioxide-oxygen mixture. This treatment causes the arteries of the retina to widen (dilate).
  • Massage of the eye.
  • Removal of fluid from within the eye. The doctor uses a needle to drain a small amount of fluid from the front of the eye. This causes a sudden drop in eye pressure, which can sometimes cause the clot to move into a smaller branch artery where it will cause less damage.
  • The clot-busting drug, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

The health care provider should look for the cause of the blockage. Blockages may be signs of a life-threatening medical problem.

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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Retinal Artery Occlusion?

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

What are the possible complications of Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Complications may include:

  • Glaucoma (CRAO only)
  • Partial or complete loss of vision in the affected eye
  • Stroke (due to the same factors that contribute to retinal artery occlusion, not due to the occlusion itself)
When should I contact a medical professional for Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Contact your provider if you have sudden blurring or vision loss.

How do I prevent Retinal Artery Occlusion?

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

  • Eating a low-fat diet
  • Exercising
  • Stopping smoking
  • Losing weight if you are overweight

Sometimes, blood thinners may be used to prevent the artery from becoming blocked again. Aspirin or other anti-clotting drugs are used if the problem is in the carotid arteries. Warfarin or other more potent blood thinners are used if the problem is in the heart.

What are the latest Retinal Artery Occlusion Clinical Trials?
Investigation of Retinal Pathology in Eye Diseases Using High Resolution Optical Coherence Tomography (High-Res-OCT)

Summary: Comparison of high-resolution optical coherence tomography (High-Res-OCT) to conventional imaging modalities for the diagnosis of eye diseases

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Safety and Efficacy of the Visual Field Improvement After Selective Intra-arterial Thrombolysis for Central Retinal Artery Occlusion

Summary: Central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) is an ophthalmic emergency which leads to devastating visual function defects and poor prognosis. Though traditional conservative treatments are widely used, none of them is proved to be effective. A number of meta-analyses and observational studies indicate intravenous thrombolysis to be beneficial in CRAO. Selective intra-arterial thrombolysis (IAT) introd...

What are the Latest Advances for Retinal Artery Occlusion?
Carotid artery dissection presenting as exercise-induced monocular visual loss.
Received anti-VEGF therapy in a patient with CRAO sparing the CLRA with subretinal fluid: A case report.
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Intravenous lipo-prostaglandin E1 administration for patients with acute central retinal artery occlusion.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: February 17, 2022
Published By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Cioffi GA, Liebmann JM. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 395.

Crouch ER, Crouch ER, Grant TR. Ophthalmology. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 17.

Duker JS, Duker JS. Retinal arterial obstruction. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 6.19.

Mac Grory B, Schrag M, Biousse V, et al. American Heart Association Stroke Council; Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Hypertension; and Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease. Management of central retinal artery occlusion: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Stroke. 2021;52(6):e309. PMID: 33677974  pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33677974/.

Patel PS, Sadda SR. Retinal artery occlusion. In: Schachat AP, Sadda SR, Hinton DR, Wilkinson CP, Wiedemann P, eds. Ryan's Retina. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 54.

Salmon JF. Retinal vascular disease. In: Salmon JF, ed. Kanski's Clinical Ophthalmology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 13.