Retinitis Pigmentosa

  • Copyright 1987, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Revised 1996. Reprinted by permission.

What is retinitis pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) refers to a group of related diseases that tend to run in families and cause slow but progressive loss of vision. The retina is the tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual images to the brain. In retinitis pigmentosa there is gradual destruction of some of the light-sensing cells and clumping of pigment cells in the retina.

What are the symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa?

Night blindness and loss of side vision are the most common symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa. The first symptoms usually start during young adulthood, although they may begin at any age. People with normal vision adjust to the dark after a short period of time and are able to distinguish shapes. People with night blindness adjust to darkness very slowly or not at all. They often cannot function in the dark. Loss of side or peripheral vision makes mobility more difficult.

Why is it important to know about heredity in retinitis pigmentosa?

Most forms of retinitis pigmentosa are inherited, but in about 40% of cases no other family member is known to have retinitis pigmentosa. Learning more about heredity, the family history of people with retinitis pigmentosa, may help predict how the disease will progress for an affected person. Variations can exist from person to person in the same family. The chance of having children or grandchildren who will also have retinitis pigmentosa varies from very unlikely to 50%, depending on the type of retinitis pigmentosa the parent has. Knowledge about heredity is helpful in making decisions about marriage, occupation, and whether to have children. Genetic counselors can help people with retinitis pigmentosa make these important decisions.

Is there any treatment for retinitis pigmentosa?

It has been reported that Vitamin A Palmitate can slow the progression of retinitis pigmentosa. Large doses of Vitamin A can be harmful to the body. Supplements of Vitamin E alone may make retinitis pigmentosa worse, but Vitamin E will not be harmful if taken with Vitamin A, or if consumed in your normal diet. Your ophthalmologist can advise you about the risks and benefits of Vitamin A and how much you can take safely. Considerable research is currently directed toward finding the hereditary cause of many types of retinitis pigmentosa. As hereditary defects are discovered through research, it may be possible to develop treatment to prevent the progression of retinitis pigmentosa. Patients with retinitis pigmentosa may develop other treatable disorders. Cataract may develop after many years and can be removed surgically if it causes blurred vision. Nearsightedness and glaucoma are more common in people with retinitis pigmentosa and can be treated successfully if found on a regular medical eye examination.

Low-vision devices can help affected people continue with many of the normal activities of daily life. The following national organization offers a support group and information on research for people with retinitis pigmentosa:The Foundation Fighting Blindness 1-800-683-5555.

Despite visual impairment, patients with retinitis pigmentosa can live meaningful and rewarding lives through the wide variety of rehabilitative services that are available today. Until there is a cure, periodic examinations by an ophthalmologist will keep patients informed of legitimate scientific discoveries that may develop.

Why are regular medical eye examinations important for everyone?

Eye disease can strike at any age. Many eye diseases do not cause symptoms until the disease has done damage. Since most blindness is preventable if diagnosed and treated early, regular medical examinations by an ophthalmologist are very important.

Copyright 1987, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Revised 1996. Reprinted by permission.

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