Blood pressure & your eyes

optic nerve
Source: The Discovery Eye Foundation

Have you ever felt like you’re chomping at the bit to do things but then life gets in the way? I have spent the last few weeks either feeling weak and dizzy, with no energy at all or fighting painful migraine-type headaches that make me wonder if my poor little skull is too small for whatever is causing the pressure inside it. I have a few clues but I’m not entirely sure what’s going on.

My ophthalmologist had me come in for another appointment recently. It seems the intraocular pressure (fluid pressure inside the eye) in both of my eyes is too high for his liking. To figure out what was going on, he prescribed a 24-hour blood pressure test. Last week I had another appointment to discuss the results.

Apparently there’s a link between blood pressure in the body and pressure in your eyes. Neither high nor low blood pressure is good for the eyes, but in my case my blood pressure is apparently too low, which means the optic nerve may not be getting the blood flow it needs and my eyes may not work properly. Too much pressure in the eyes puts my optic nerve at risk for damage, increasing the chances I’ll eventually go blind.

It took visits to three pharmacies in my area to find one that rents out the blood pressure machine for this test and even then they cancelled the appointment on the day it was supposed to happen and I had to find another pharmacy that could start the test that day. Had I been in Montreal, finding a machine would probably have been easier (the pharmacy near my eye doctor’s office had one available). If you ever need to do this test here in Quebec, and you don’t know French terms, you’ll want to know the test is called a MAPA (monitoring ambulatoire de pression artérielle). So if a doctor writes a prescription for a 24-hour BP, be sure to ask the pharmacist for a MAPA. Renting the machine from a pharmacy costs around $50 and you can claim the cost on your insurance.

Société québécoise d’hypertension artérielle

For this test you wear a small portable digital blood pressure machine on your body, which is attached to you with either a shoulder strap or a belt around your body and connected to a cuff on one upper arm.

It’s supposed to be truly portable so that you can go about your daily life wearing it and you should be able to sleep with it on. When a pharmacist fits you for the machine, you wear a t-shirt so that the cuff on your upper arm is right over your artery, making it easier for the machine to take correct readings.

You can’t change your shirt without disrupting the setup and you can’t shower either.

The machine is noisy and weird to wear since during the times you’re awake the cuff inflates every 20 minutes, taking readings three times per hour. When you’re sleeping, the readings are usually once per hour. I don’t know what happened to my machine, but some readings didn’t work and there were no readings at all at certain times. The pharmacist also messed up when she told me the time to return the machine. I should have come back at least 20 minutes later, because it missed the final 20 minutes of the 24-hour readings. I don’t think it really matters, it was just annoying that I didn’t do the full 24 hours. My arm was sore and I was happy to say goodbye to that machine.

Based on the machine’s findings, my blood pressure is not just on the low end of normal but often lower than that. That explains the dizziness and lack of energy, lack of concentration and focus. I wonder if the headaches I experience have something to do with my eyes.

Unfortunately for me, while low blood pressure is great for the kidneys, it puts me at risk for developing glaucoma. At last week’s follow-up with my ophthalmologist, he considered my eye pressure too high and prescribed eye drops.

The bonus of the drops apparently is that I may gain thicker, longer eyelashes. The drawbacks? Raccoon eyes, since the medication makes the area under the eyes darker. It also can change your iris’s eye colour and make you feel like you have grains of sand in your eyes.

Even though I would much rather take a supplement than take these drops, I will behave. From what I’ve read about high eye pressure (intraocular hypertension), sleeping with your head at a 20 or 30-degree angle is supposed to help, so I’m trying to sleep with two pillows. I tried acupressure exercises to lower eye pressure but based on my last eye exam, they weren’t changing much. I bought some bilberry supplements to help my eyes. I was looking for a supplement with something called Mirtogenol, made from bilberry extract and French maritime pine bark extract, which according to studies works to reduce eye pressure. But the local health food store didn’t have it and their naturopath had never heard of it. She suggested I look into adopting a ketogenic diet, since apparently that’s good for glaucoma. Apparently the Diet Doctor website team includes a nephrologist and she thought I should seek advice from him, since I have inherited kidney disease.

I’ve just started feeling better after spending years fighting weird IBS-like symptoms. I’m following a kidney-friendly diet, which seems to be making a difference and I hesitate to follow a ketogenic diet without the blessing of my own nephrologist. Whatever I do, I don’t want to make anything worse. I’ve been through so many tests these last few years and so far I’m seen by doctors as a very healthy “unhealthy” person. I am certain the symptoms I’ve had are not just in my head. I look forward to getting to the bottom of whatever is taking away my energy and causing painful headaches. There is so much I want to accomplish. I just need to get better.

2 thoughts on “Blood pressure & your eyes

  1. Gloria Gore

    Regarding your IBS, have you ever heard of FODMAP. Apparently, one in seven Australians has IBS . Monash University is doing research into it. They have discovered certain things in foods that people with IBS should stay away from. You can find info on it on the web. Plus I have their app on my phone. I can look up foods when I am in the grocery store. I would have never thought that foods they have identified would have been ones to avoid. It works for me. I am much better since I have been using their guide. My doctor was the one who clued me in to FODMAP. I have spoken to dieticians who were also well aware of it. If you haven’t yet looked into it, I can recommend it.

    1. Gloria, thank you for suggesting FODMAP. I’m glad your doctor was aware of it and it helped you. I have tried a low FODMAP diet but it didn’t seem to work for me (made no difference). I believe I do not have true IBS-C because when I started following a kidney-friendly diet, the symptoms disappeared. I have a kidney disease called Alport syndrome and while I don’t have the full-blown disease, my kidneys are not working perfectly. I followed many, many suggestions for treating IBS but they didn’t consistently help. I do try to be careful of what I eat these days and I’m a big fan of Heather Van Vorous’ Help for IBS blog. I’m glad being careful of FODMAPs made you better.

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