What is the pathophysiology of central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO)?

Updated: Apr 18, 2019
  • Author: Lakshmana M Kooragayala, MD; Chief Editor: Douglas R Lazzaro, MD, FAAO, FACS  more...
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The exact pathogenesis of the thrombotic occlusion of the central retinal vein is not known. Various local and systemic factors play a role in the pathological closure of the central retinal vein. [3, 6, 7]

The central retinal artery and vein share a common adventitial sheath as they exit the optic nerve head and pass through a narrow opening in the lamina cribrosa. Because of this narrow entry in the lamina cribrosa, the vessels are in a tight compartment with limited space for displacement. This anatomical position predisposes to thrombus formation in the central retinal vein by various factors, including slowing of the blood stream, changes in the vessel wall, and changes in the blood.

Arteriosclerotic changes in the central retinal artery transform the artery into a rigid structure and impinge upon the pliable central retinal vein, causing hemodynamic disturbances, endothelial damage, and thrombus formation. This mechanism explains the fact that there may be an associated arterial disease with central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO). However, this association has not been proven consistently, and various authors disagree on this fact.

Thrombotic occlusion of the central retinal vein can occur as a result of various pathologic insults, including compression of the vein (mechanical pressure due to structural changes in lamina cribrosa, eg, glaucomatous cupping, inflammatory swelling in optic nerve, orbital disorders); hemodynamic disturbances (associated with hyperdynamic or sluggish circulation); vessel wall changes (eg, vasculitis); and changes in the blood (eg, deficiency of thrombolytic factors, increase in clotting factors).

Occlusion of the central retinal vein leads to the backup of the blood in the retinal venous system and increased resistance to venous blood flow. This increased resistance causes stagnation of the blood and ischemic damage to the retina. It has been postulated that ischemic damage to the retina stimulates increased production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the vitreous cavity. Increased levels of VEGF stimulate neovascularization of the posterior and anterior segment (responsible for secondary complications due to CRVO). Also, it has been shown that VEGF causes capillary leakage leading to macular edema (which is the leading cause of visual loss in both ischemic CRVO and nonischemic CRVO).

The prognosis of CRVO depends upon the reestablishment of patency of the venous system by recanalization, dissolution of clot, or formation of optociliary shunt vessels.

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