Scottish study highlights link between obesity and sight loss

Between 10 and 15% of patients with idiopathic intracranial hypertension suffer from irreversible visual impairment


Research by NHS Fife and the University of St Andrews has highlighted the negative impact of obesity on eye health.

The study, which was published in Scottish Medical Journal, described every new diagnosis of idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) within the ophthalmology department at NHS Fife between August 2013 and July 2014.

Within this period, 13 patients received a new diagnosis of the condition, which typically affects young overweight females.

Dr Colin Goudie, ophthalmology registrar at Princess Alexandra Eye Pavillion, said the incidence of 3.56 cases per 100,000 people in Fife was “significantly higher” than previous estimates.

“We believe this is due to the high levels of obesity in the region,” he said.

“We found that the incidence of IIH in Fife was between two and six times higher than previously reported from other studies performed in similarly developed nations,” Dr Goudie shared.

The researchers highlighted that around 10 to 15% of patients with IIH suffer from irreversible visual impairment.

In 2017, close to one third (29%) of the adult population in Scotland was classified as clinically obese with a BMI greater than 30.

In the Fife study, all patients diagnosed with IIH over the study period were overweight, with a mean BMI of 36.

A headache was the most common presenting symptom, while three patients were asymptomatic but swollen discs were identified during a routine sight test. One patient experienced visual symptoms.

Dr Andrew Blaikie, of the University of St Andrews, emphasised that as being overweight is the cause of the disease the primary treatment is to lose weight and achieve a normal BMI.

“This can be augmented with medicines and sometimes surgery to prevent any long-term damage to sight an improve the symptoms of headache,” he said.

“However, [a group of patients exist who can still develop rapidly progressive and permanent vision loss despite prompt treatment,” Dr Blaikie cautioned.