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  • Sudden painless visual loss with signs of optic nerve dysfunction.

  • Optic disk swelling in anterior ischemic optic neuropathy.

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 (eFigure 7–64). In older patients, it may be caused by giant cell arteritis (arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy). The predominant factor predisposing to nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, which subsequently affects the other eye in around 15% of cases, is a congenitally crowded optic disk, compromising optic disk circulation. Other predisposing factors are systemic hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, systemic vasculitis, inherited or acquired thrombophilia, interferon-alpha therapy, and obstructive sleep apnea; hypotension and anemia during dialysis may cause bilateral anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. An 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. Rarely, optic neuropathy develops in patients taking amiodarone that can be difficult to differentiate from nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, but it typically affects both eyes simultaneously and has a more chronic course.

eFigure 7–64.

Optic disk swelling with hemorrhages due to anterior ischemic optic neuropathy.

Posterior ischemic optic neuropathy, involving the retrobulbar optic nerve and thus not causing any optic disk swelling, may occur with severe blood loss; nonocular surgery, particularly prolonged lumbar spine surgery in the prone position with increased orbital pressure; severe burns; or in association with dialysis, as a consequence of profound hypotension and anemia. In all such situations, there may be several contributory factors.


Arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy necessitates emergency high-dose systemic corticosteroid treatment to prevent visual loss in the other eye. (See Central & Branch Retinal Artery Occlusions, above, and Polymyalgia Rheumatica & Giant Cell Arteritis, Chapter 20.) Similar treatment is required in anterior ischemic optic neuropathy due to systemic vasculitis, which may also be classified as arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. It is uncertain whether systemic or intravitreal corticosteroid therapy influences the outcome in nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy or whether oral low-dose aspirin (~81 mg daily) reduces the risk of involvement of the other eye. In ischemic optic neuropathy after nonocular surgery or dialysis, treatment of marked anemia by blood transfusion may be beneficial.


Patients with ischemic optic neuropathy should be referred urgently to an ophthalmologist.


Patients with ischemic optic neuropathy due to giant cell arteritis or other vasculitis may require emergency admission for high-dose corticosteroid therapy and close monitoring to ensure that treatment is adequate.

Arora  S ...

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