Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) refers to a group of related hereditary diseases that cause slow but progressive loss of vision. The retina is tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual images to the brain. In retinitis pigmentosa, there is gradual destruction of some of the nervous sensors in the retina along with abnormal pigment clumping.
The first symptoms usually occur in youth or young adulthood although it may be first seen at any age. Night blindness and loss of side vision are the most common symptoms in retinitis pigmentosa. People with normal vision adjust to the dark after a short period of time and can distinguish forms. People with night blindness adjust to darkness very slowly, if at all. Loss of side vision (peripheral vision) is common in patients with retinitis pigmentosa.
Different patterns of heredity are associated with different degrees of progression and so an attempt to know more about the family tree will help predict how an affected person might ultimately be afflicted, though variability exists within each family.
There is no specific treatment, but a large amount of ongoing research is being done. Periodic examinations by an ophthalmologist are advised. Patients with retinitis pigmentosa may develop other treatable disease, such as glaucoma or cataract. Low vision aids may be prescribed. Despite visual impairment, patients with retinitis pigmentosa can live meaningful and rewarding lives with the many rehabilitative services that are available today.