Retinitis pigmentosa

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Retinitis pigmentosa

Question

What is retinitis pigmentosa?

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Answer

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the name for a group of inherited eye diseases characterized by poor night vision and a slow loss of side (peripheral) vision. The disorder may be caused by defects in a number of different genes, which result in progressive degeneration of the retina. Retinitis pigmentosa may eventually lead to blindness.

Initially, retinitis pigmentosa damages the specialized cells in the retina that sense light. These cells are called rods and cones. But as the disease progresses, it may affect the entire retina. Signs and symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa often first appear in childhood. But severe visual problems usually don't develop until early adulthood.

A doctor may make a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa by:

  • Signs and symptoms
  • Careful examination of the eye, which reveals a granular discoloration of the retina
  • Dark adaptation test, which measures how well your eyes adjust to changes in lighting
  • Electroretinogram (ERG), which records electrical currents produced in the retina as a result of visual stimuli

There is no effective treatment for retinitis pigmentosa. Treatment is usually directed at managing some of the other problems that may be associated with retinitis pigmentosa, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Some research suggests that prolonged exposure of the retina to ultraviolet light may accelerate vision loss. So, the use of sunglasses may help preserve vision in a person with RP but it won't prevent RP. Also, recent studies indicate that treatment with antioxidants may slow the progression of the disease. However this treatment is controversial.

Last Updated: 12/15/2005
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