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For further information, see CMDT Part 7-21: Ischemic Optic Neuropathy

Key Features

  • Sudden painless visual loss with signs of optic nerve dysfunction

  • Optic disk swelling in anterior ischemic optic neuropathy

Clinical Findings

  • Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy

    • Due to inadequate perfusion of the posterior ciliary arteries that supply the anterior portion of the optic nerve

    • Produces sudden visual loss, usually with an altitudinal field defect, and optic disk swelling

    • In older patients, it is often caused by giant cell arteritis

    • The predominant predisposing factor is a congenitally crowded optic disk

    • Other predisposing factors are systemic hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, systemic vasculitis, inherited or acquired thrombophilia, interferon-alpha therapy, obstructive sleep apnea; the association with phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors is controversial

    • Diabetic papillopathy is a cause of chronic (possibly ischemic) optic disk swelling that generally has a better visual outcome

    • In patients taking amiodarone, an optic neuropathy that can be difficult to differentiate from nonarteritic anterior optic neuropathy can develop (albeit rarely); it typically affects both eyes simultaneously and has a more chronic course

  • Posterior ischemic optic neuropathy

    • Involves the retrobulbar optic nerve and thus does not cause any optic disk swelling

    • May occur with severe blood loss or nonocular surgery, particularly prolonged lumbar spine surgery in the prone position

    • May be associated with dialysis


  • Clinical diagnosis (eg, visual loss accompanied by optic disease swelling, altitudinal field defect, crowded optic disk, temporal artery nodularity and tenderness, etc)


  • Emergency high-dose systemic corticosteroids

  • Whether systemic or intravitreal corticosteroid therapy influences outcome in nonarteritic anterior ischemic neuropathy is uncertain

  • Whether low-dose aspirin (~81 mg/day orally) reduces risk of fellow eye involvement is also uncertain

  • Blood transfusion may be beneficial in treating marked anemia in patients with ischemic optic neuropathy who have undergone nonocular surgery

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