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Eye disorders associated with chronic kidney disease

Eli A Friedman, MD
Section Editors
Jeffrey S Berns, MD
Jonathan Trobe, MD
Deputy Editor
Alice M Sheridan, MD


Medical supervision of patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) seldom requires specific attention to the eyes. An important exception is the need for perpetual surveillance, in collaboration with an ophthalmologist, of all dialysis patients with diabetes, in whom the risk of vision loss is substantial.

Disorders of the kidney rarely directly affect vision or change the anatomic integrity of the eyes. Recognition of a coincident eye problem during evaluation of kidney disease is usually fortuitous. As an example, advanced proliferative diabetic retinopathy can be completely asymptomatic. At the other extreme, complaints about vision may lead to the diagnosis of a previously unsuspected kidney disease. The presence of Alport syndrome, for example, may be detected when corneal erosion or anterior lenticonus is found during the assessment for blurred vision.


A comprehensive study of a patient with CKD or end-stage kidney disease (ESRD) should include examination of the external eye and direct ophthalmoscopy. Benefits of this approach were noted in a multicenter, cross-sectional longitudinal study of 1936 individuals with varying stages of CKD in which 45 degree digital photos of the disc and macula in both eyes, obtained by nonophthalmologic personnel, were assessed in a masked manner by a retinal specialist [1]. A total of 1904 subjects (98 percent) had satisfactory photographs of at least one eye, of which eye "pathologies" requiring follow-up examination by an ophthalmologist were identified in 864 (45 percent). These pathologies included serious eye conditions requiring urgent treatment in 65 participants (3 percent) and diabetic and/or hypertensive disease in 482 (25 percent). An estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) less than 30 mL/min/1.73 m2 was associated with a three times higher risk for retinopathy than a normal GFR. Further study of retinal photographs from the same patients, termed the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CFIC) study group [2], noted that 45 percent had pathologic changes requiring ophthalmologic follow-up, while 3 percent had serious retinal findings requiring urgent treatment. ESRD may lead to retinal detachments as a consequence of tears or breaks in the retina through which liquefied vitreous fluid leaks into the subretinal space as reported in three patients [3]. Advanced kidney disease of any etiology induces eye findings that signal the need for initiation or intensification of therapy. As examples:

Conjunctival erythema, termed the red eyes of uremia, may be noted when high plasma phosphate levels induce corneal and conjunctival precipitation of calcium pyrophosphate.

Metastatic calcification in the eyes may be associated with elevations of the serum concentration of calcium or calcium-phosphate product [4].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: May 10, 2017.
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