Retinitis pigmentosa, also known as “RP”, is a group of genetic disorders that affect the retina’s ability to respond to light.  RP causes a slow loss of vision that begins with decreased night vision and loss of peripheral vision that eventually leads to blindness.  RP is usually hereditary.  If you have retinitis pigmentosa, or your partner has the disease and you plan on having children, there may be up to a 50 percent chance that you pass it along to your children.

If you have RP, the amount of vision you will lose and rate of progression of the disease will vary from person to person.

Symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa

  • Decreased night vision
  • Slow loss of vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • May experience difficulty identifying colors

Diagnosis of RP is performed by an ophthalmologist with a comprehensive eye examination that includes dilating your eyes and using an ophthalmoscope to look at the retina.  A visual field test may be performed to determine how much peripheral vision you have and to locate defects in in the peripheral visual field related to damage from retinitis pigmentosa.

Retinitis Pigmentosa Testing:

Electroretinogram

Electrophysiological testing may also be performed to measure your responses to flashes of lights using electrodes placed on the surface of your eye. This test can be used to detect abnormalities at any stage of the disease.   An ERG or electroretinogram is used and when combined with the visual field exam, will usually determine the diagnosis.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT)

OCT is often used to detect; epiretinal membranes, vitreomacular traction syndrome, and cystic macular lesions in RP patients with decreased vision.

Flourescein angiography (FA) documents blood circulation in the retina using a special dye “fluorescein dye” which luminesces under blue light.  Dye will be injected into the patients arm and digital fundus pictures will be taken after ten minutes.  This test documents the extent of atrophy and blood circulation within the retina to determine the extent of disease progression.

Fundus Photography visually documents RP through images taken with a digital fundus camera.

Depending on your individual symptoms; progression of disease and other determining factors, one or more of these tests may be used by your ophthalmologist to diagnosis your condition.

There is currently no cure for RP.  However, research is rapidly advancing and treatment and management is necessary.  There are many low vision devices that may help RP patients maintain an active lifestyle.  As new therapies emerge, your doctor will be able to keep track of your progression and keep you informed of new treatments and clinical trials.