Obesity and Vision Loss: The Connection and Why More Cases Are Being Diagnosed

2 July 2015
 Categories: Health & Medical , Blog


When you start experiencing vision problems, such as blind spots, double vision, and poor peripheral vision, you automatically assume that the issue lies within your eyes. However, several conditions can cause vision loss. Even your weight can contribute to the degeneration of your eyesight. In addition to blurry vision and blindness caused by illnesses such as diabetes, another lesser known condition that's directly linked with obesity and weight gain might be at play. The condition is called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, and experts are warning that cases of this rare condition are on the rise. 

What Is Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension?

This condition is caused by increased pressure in the spaces that surround the brain and spinal cord. When pressure increases in these areas, a major optic disc becomes inflamed and swollen, resulting in vision loss. The swelling of the optic disc is referred to as papilledema. The condition can be either temporary or chronic. 

Why Is Weight a Factor?

While some cases of intracranial pressure have an obvious medical cause, such as a blood clot, others have no known cause. These cases are considered to be idiopathic. Approximately 100,000 people currently have IIH, and that number is on the rise as people continue to become heavier, according to the National Eye Institute.

Research has shown that weight plays a role in who develops IIH. Women between the ages of 20 and 50 who have a BMI greater than 30 are at the highest risk. Heavier men are rarely affected by the condition. Additionally, women and men who quickly gain anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of their body weight may also develop the condition.

How Is IIH Diagnosed and Treated?

Cases of IIH are often diagnosed by an optometrist like Terrezza O.D. & Associates, P.A. via a procedure called a dilated eye exam. The condition may also be diagnosed at the hospital with a spinal tap, CT or MRI scan. 

The treatment for IIH involves weight loss. People who are able to lose as little as 5 percent of their body weight usually see a reduction in symptoms. For people who are unable to lose weight on their own, weight loss surgery may be an option. Additionally, prescription weight loss medications may be an option. In severe cases, surgery is needed to relieve pressure from the optic disc.

As you can see, obesity and this rare condition are inexorably linked. As Americans continue to get heavier, the number of obesity-related illnesses and disorders will naturally increase.