What Is Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a group of diseases of the retina, collectively called inherited retinal dystrophies, that all lead to a gradual progressive reduction in vision.

Two million people worldwide suffer from Inherited retinal diseases (IRDs), of which Retinitis Pigmentosa is the most common. Collectively, they are the major cause of inherited sight loss, ultimately often leading to total blindness and with profound impacts on patients, their families and society.

There is currently no treatment or cure for RP. Research is being carried out to find the genetic causes with the hope of finding new potential treatments.

Causes of retinitis pigmentosa

Almost all types of retinitis pigmentosa are inherited, caused by genetic mutation. These faulty genes leads to retinal cells not functioning properly and dying, so the eye is unable to process light that hits these retinal cells, causing gradual vision loss.

There are many genes that cause retinal cells to stop working, so there are many different types of RP.

It affects approximately 1 in 3,000 to 4,000 people. In approximately half of all cases there are other family members with RP.

Symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa

The age at which symptoms start and the rate of deterioration is variable - for example with the different genetic types - but is generally very slow with changes occurring over years rather than months.

Difficulties with night vision and peripheral vision are the first things that are noticed. Later, reading vision (detailed vision), colour vision, and central ('straight-ahead') vision are affected.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to have your eyes tested by an optometrist.

Diagnosing retinitis pigmentosa

During a standard eye test, your optometrist will examine your retina to detect RP.

If you know that a family member has RP, it is important to tell your optometrist as this could help them to diagnose the condition.

If your optometrist detects any changes to your retina, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist at your local eye hospital for further tests.

Treatment for retinitis pigmentosa

There is currently no treatment or cure for RP. Once diagnosed, you will be monitored regularly at your local eye hospital and given advice on how to make the most of the vision you do have.

Find out how Assistive Technology helps to manage tasks made difficult by low vision and blindness.

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