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Retinitis Pigmentosa


Sonia Mehta

, MD, Vitreoretinal Diseases and Surgery Service, Wills Eye Hospital, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
Topic Resources

Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare, progressive degeneration of the retina (the transparent, light-sensitive structure at the back of the eye) that eventually causes moderate to severe vision loss.

Retinitis pigmentosa is often inherited. One form has a dominant pattern of inheritance Inheritance of Single-Gene Disorders , requiring only one abnormal gene from either parent. Other forms are recessive Inheritance of Single-Gene Disorders and require an abnormal gene from both parents. An X-linked recessive Inheritance of Single-Gene Disorders form occurs mainly in males who inherit one abnormal gene from their mother. In some people, mostly males, hearing loss may also be inherited (a disorder called Usher syndrome).

The Retina and Optic Nerve

Symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa

The photoreceptor (light-sensing) cells of the retina that enable people to see at night or in the dark or dim light (called rods) gradually degenerate. As a result, seeing at night or in the dark or dim light becomes difficult.

Symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa begin at various ages, often in childhood. Over time, peripheral vision progressively deteriorates and can evolve into legal blindness. People may eventually lose the ability to see at night or in dim light. In the late stages of the disease, the person typically has only a small area of central vision and possibly no peripheral vision remaining (tunnel vision). Sometimes in late stages the macula, the area of the retina responsible for central vision, swells. This swelling is called macular edema and affects central vision.

Diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa

  • A doctor's examination of the eye

  • Possibly electroretinography

  • Examination of family members

Doctors suspect the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa in people who have poor night vision or a family history. When examining the retina with an ophthalmoscope, doctors see specific changes that suggest the diagnosis.

Tests such as the electroretinogram Electroretinography A variety of tests can be done to confirm an eye problem or to determine the extent or severity of an eye disorder. Each eye is tested separately. In general, angiography involves injecting... read more , which evaluates the electrical response of the retina to light, may help confirm the diagnosis and determine how the severity of the disorder has changed over time.

Family members should be examined so that the inheritance pattern can be determined if possible. If the disorder is present in other family members, genetic counseling should be considered before having children.

Treatment of Retinitis Pigmentosa

  • Vitamin A palmitate

  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements

  • Lutein plus zeaxanthin supplements

  • Sometimes, drugs called carbonic anhydrase inhibitors

  • Sometimes, surgically implanted computer chips

No treatment can reverse the damage caused by retinitis pigmentosa. Vitamin A palmitate may help slow the progression of the disorder in some people. Supplements with an omega-3 fatty acid (for example, docosahexaenoic acid) and a combination of lutein plus zeaxanthin may also slow the rate of vision loss. People who have swelling of the retina (macular edema) are given drugs called carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (usually acetazolamide or dorzolamide) by mouth or as eye drops.

A gene-therapy drug called voretigene neparovovec-ryzl may restore some vision to people with a particular mutation, provided they still have some retinal cells capable of surviving and reproducing.

People who have lost all vision or almost all vision can be given a surgically implanted computer chip in the eye, which can restore some perception of light and shapes.

More Information

The following is an English-language resource that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

    • National Eye Institute: A resource for learning about eye health (in English and Spanish) for adults and children, as well as access to outreach campaigns. Simply type in the appropriate search term.

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