Anemias happen when the level of healthy and balanced red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin (an iron-binding, oxygen-carrying protein within RBCs) is too low. Depending on the cause, anemias deserve to be classified as follows:

Those arising due come deficient manufacturing of RBCs indigenous the bone marrow (hypoproliferative);Those due to increased blood ns (bleeding) or damages of red blood cell (hemolysis); orThose due to abnormalities in the production of the blood cell (ineffective erythropoiesis).

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At a Glance

• as the severity that anemia increases, the risk ofretinopathy increases, particularly when plateletcount is low.

• Ocular findings have the right to be classified together featurescommon to every anemias or details features early tospecific etiologies.

• In most cases, just treatment of the underlyingetiology is needed, and retinopathy generallyresolves top top its own.

Iron deficiency is the most common form of anemia. A deficiency that vitamin B12 is known as pernicious anemia.1 In the eye, anemia have the right to lead come transient retinal hemorrhages. These were an initial described by Ulrich in 1883 in association with gastrointestinal hemorrhage.2


Anemia reasons retinopathy in 28% the patients, specifically when over there is coexisting thrombocytopenia (38%). As the severity the anemia increases, the threat of retinopathy increases, specifically when the hemoglobin (Hb) level is below 6 gm/dL.3

A selection of pathologic changes developing due to and also associated v anemia space implicated in the clinical features of anemic retinopathy. Anemia reasons retinal hypoxia, which leader to infarction of the nerve fiber layer and also clinically manifests together cotton wool spots. Retinal hypoxia additionally leads come vascular dilatation; boosted transmural push owing come hypoproteinemia; and microtraumas to the ship walls, which cause retinal edema and also hemorrhages. In many clinical situations, thrombocytopenia is associated with anemia, and also that leader to defective coagulation and hemorrhages.

Other factors implicated in the pathology space venous stasis, angiospasm, boosted blood viscosity (myeloproliferative disorders), hypotension (following hemorrhage), etc. Hypotension may bring about optic neuropathy.4,5



Figure 1. Instance No. 1: Fundus photos mirroring retinal edema in the patient’s best eye (A) as compared with the left eye (B). On follow-up, the macular edema fixed in the right eye (C). The clinical picture in D is the left eye.

Along with systemic functions of anemia every se, and in relation to the primary etiology leading to the anemia, ocular findings can be classified together features common to all anemias or specific features early out to details etiologies.


Rarely, loss of vision deserve to be a presenting complaint, due to the fact that most cases are asymptomatic. At the macula, hemorrhages, edema, or difficult exudates can cause impairment the vision. Alternatively, vision loss may occur because of disc edema or optic neuropathy.


Retinal alters common to every anemias include the following:

Hemorrhages: Superficial, flame-shaped hemorrhages situated in the nerve fiber layer space the most usual finding in anemic retinopathy. In a few cases, dot and also blot hemorrhages in depth retinal layers may be noted. Rarely, blood might be existing in the subhyaloid plane or in the vitreous. Roth spots might be seen. The white centers in Roth spots can be as result of inflammatory infiltrates, fibrin and platelets, neoplastic cells, or focal locations of ischemia.6

Cotton structure spots: Retinal nerve fiber layer infarction as result of retinal hypoxia in anemia causes these superficial fluffy white lesions.

Retinal edema: The microtrauma of the ship wall an additional to elevated transmural push leads come leakage. This in turn leads come retinal edema.

Hard exudates: These may be seen due to resolved retinal edema. As soon as these are severe and located in ~ the macula, macular star is seen.

Vessel changes: Arteries room attenuated and also pale, and veins space dilated and also tortuous. These findings are seen more as the severity of anemia increases.


Figure 2. Instance No. 1: OCT scans show a slight rise in central foveal thickness in the right eye (A) as compared with the left eye (B). Follow-up scans show a resolution in increased central foveal thickness in the right eye (C) and also symmetry of style with the of the left eye (D).

Optic nerve changes: Edema or, in later stages that optic neuropathy, optic bowl pallor is seen.7

Retinal changes seen in special situations include the following:

Iron deficiency anemia: Besides the regimen changes, other explained findings include main retinal vein occlusion, retinal artery occlusion, disc edema, and anterior ischemic optic neuropathy.8,9

Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia: This condition causes optic neuropathy, which is noticeable as bowl pallor.7

Sickle cell anemia: Proliferative alters are checked out in the retina an additional to vaso-occlusion, which have the right to lead come vitreous hemorrhage and retinal detachment. Choroidal infarcts have the right to occur as result of the sickling of red blood cells. That is amazing to note that conjunctival sickling sign and also areas of iris atrophy and neovascularization occur in this disease.10

Myeloproliferative disorders: Roth spots, leukemic infiltrates in the retina, choroidal infiltration with second serous retinal detachment, microaneurysms, and also vascular sheathing might be seen.10

Thalassemia: Retinal colours epithelial changes are seen.10

Malaria: Anemia and also raised intracranial pressure because of cerebral malaria can cause retinal changes and disc edema.


Ocular investigate are indicated only if therapy is being planned. Fluorescein angiography may show a hold-up in the arteriovenous transit time in cases of venous occlusion.11 Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is helpful in instances of vascular occlusion to show macular edema. Retinopathy in anemia can additionally be seen in oncology patients and in those with contagious endocarditis or autoimmune diseases. Hence, blood investigations should incorporate peripheral blood smear examination in enhancement to finish blood work. Bone marrow biopsy might be indicated in part cases.

In many cases, only treatment that the basic etiology is needed, and also retinopathy normally resolves top top its own. In situations of vascular occlusion, macular edema may need to be treated.11 Nd:YAG laser hyaloidotomy may be suggested in situations of subhyaloid hemorrhage.


Below space two patient instances that show how various etiologies can impact the clinical findings in anemia.

Case No. 1

A 40-year-old mrs reported reduced vision in her appropriate eye (OD) for 1 day. She BCVA was 6/36 OD and also 6/6 in the left eye (OS). Anterior segment testimonial revealed conjunctival pallor. Fundus examination revealed thickening that the macula OD contrasted with OS (Figure1). OCT documented a slight boost in macular thickness OD (Figure 2). One systemic investigation, that was found that her Hb level was 5.6 gm/dL and also serum ferritin was 20 µg/dL.

The patient was diagnosed through iron deficiency anemia. She was began on nutritional additionally under supervision the a physician. In ~ a follow-up visit 2 months later, she BCVA had actually improved to 6/6 OD. A reduction in central foveal thickness was checked out on OCT. This instance highlights the importance of the eye as a window to the body.


Figure 3. Instance No. 2: ideal eye color fundus photo shows bowl edema v cotton wool spots (A). Left eye color fundus photo shows noodle wool point out (B), which resolved after therapy. Appropriate (C) and left (D) eyes on follow-up.

Case No. 2

A 54-year-old mrs presented reporting diminution the vision OD for the past 2 months. Her BCVA to be 6/24OD and 6/9 OS. Top top examination, she had disc edema through hemorrhages and cotton structure spots OD. The fundus OS proved multiple cotton wool spots (Figure 3). Bulbar conjunctiva demonstrated significant pallor. On systemic investigation, she was noted to have substantially reduced Hb level (5 gm/dL). Her serum ferritin level was 67.7µg/dL. The doctor advised peripheral blood smear, i m sorry revealed Plasmodium falciparum.

She to be treated because that the same by an internist. One year later, her Hb level had increased come 10.6 gm/dL, she BCVA enhanced to 6/9 OD, and also the bowl edema and also cotton structure spots had resolved. N

1. Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al. Harrison’s principles of internal Medicine, 17th ed. Brand-new York: McGraw-Hill Medical; 2008: 360.

2. Pears MA, Pickering GW. Alters in the fundus oculi after haemorrhage. Q J Med. 1960;29:153-178.

3. Carraro MC, Rossetti L, Gerli GC. Ubiquity of retinopathy in patients v anemia or thrombocytopenia. Eur J Haematol. 2001;67(4):238-244.

4. Rubenstein RA, Yanoff M, Albert DM. Thrombocytopenia, anemia, and also retinal hemorrhage. To be J Ophthalmol. 1968;65(3):435-439.

5. Foulds WS. The ocular manifestations the blood diseases. Infectious diseases world fashion Ophthalmol Soc UK. 1963;83:345-360.

6. Kaur B, Taylor D. Fundus hemorrhages in infancy. Surv Ophthalmol. 1992;37(1):1-17.

7. Beck RW, blacksmith CH. Neuro-ophthalmology: A Problem-oriented Approach. Boston: Little, Brown, and also Co.; 1988.

8. Biousse V, Rucker JC, Vignal C, et al. Anemia and also papilledema. Am J Ophthalmol. 2003;135(4):437-446.

9. Imai E, Kunikata H, Udono T, et al. Branch retinal artery occlusion: a complication that iron-deficiency anemia in a young adult with a rectal carcinoid. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2004;203(2):141-144.

10. Loewenstein JI. Retinopathy connected with blood anomalies. In: Jakobieck F, ed. Clinical Ophthalmology. Revised ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott; 1995: 995-1000.

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11. Kacer B, Hattenbach LO, Horle S, et al. Main retinal vein occlusion and also nonarteritic ischemic optic neuropathy in 2 patients with mild iron deficiency anemia. Ophthalmologica. 2001;215(2):128-131.

Section Editor Albert Augustin, MD• professor and also chairman the the department of ophthalmology, Staedtisches Klinikum Karlsruhe, in Karlsruhe, Germany

Section Editor Ehab N. El-Rayes, MD, PhD• professor the ophthalmology, academy of Ophthalmology in Cairo, Egypt; vitreoretinal consultant, The Retina Clinic, in Cairo, Egypt

Section Editor, Masahito Ohji, MD• professor and also chairman of the department of ophthalmology, Shiga college of clinical Science, in Otsu, Shiga, Japan

Section Editor, Stanislao Rizzo, MD• chair of the room of ophthalmology, university of Florence, in Florence, Italy

Rohit Modi, MD• honorary consultant in ~ Lokmanya Tilak Municipal medical College and General Hospital, and consultant at S.L. Raheja Hospital, every in Mumbai, India• gaue won interest: no one acknowledged• rohitrmodi1

Gaurav Y. Shah, MD• director, Eye Life Hospital, and also consultant for Lilavati Hospital & study Centre, all in Mumbai, India• gaue won interest: no one acknowledged• gyseye