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Retinitis pigmentosa is an eye disease in which there is damage to the retina . The damage gets worse (progresses) over time.

Alternative Names:


Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Retinitis pigmentosa commonly runs in families. The disorder can be caused by a number of genetic defects.

The cells controlling night vision (rods) are most likely to be affected. However, in some cases, retinal cone cells are damaged the most. The main sign of the disease is the presence of dark lines in the retina.

As the disease gets worse, side (peripheral) vision is gradually lost. The condition may eventually lead to blindness , but usually not complete blindness. Signs and symptoms often first appear in childhood, but severe vision problems do not usually develop until early adulthood.

The main risk factor is a family history of retinitis pigmentosa. It is an uncommon condition affecting about 1 in 4,000 people in the United States.

  • Decreased vision at night or in low light
  • Loss of side (peripheral) vision
  • Loss of central vision (in advanced cases)

Signs and tests:

Tests to evaluate the retina:


There is no effective treatment for this condition. Wearing sunglasses to protect the retina from ultraviolet light may help preserve vision.

Controversial studies have suggested that treatment with antioxidants (such as vitamin A palmitate) may slow the disease from getting worse.

Several clinical trials are in progress to investigate new treatments for retinitis pigmentosa.

Microchip implants that go inside the retina are in the early stages of development for treating blindness associated with this condition.

It can help to see a low-vision specialist. Make regular visits to an eye care specialist, who can screen for cataracts or retinal swelling -- both of which can be treated.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

The disorder will continue to progress, although slowly. Complete blindness is uncommon.


Peripheral and central loss of vision will eventually occur.

Patients with retinitis pigmentosa often develop cataracts at an early age. Cataracts can be removed if they cause vision loss.

Many other conditions have similarities to retinitis pigmentosa, including:

Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if night vision becomes difficult or if you develop other symptoms of this disorder.


Genetic counseling may determine whether your children are at risk for this disease.


Sieving PA. Retinitis Pigmentosa and Related Disorders. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, Augsburger JJ, Azar DT. Yanoff: Ophthalmology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA; Mosby:chap 108.

Review Date: 4/22/2008
Reviewed By: Andrew A. Dahl, MD, FACS, Director of Ophthalmology Training, Institute for Family Health, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, New York College of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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