HealthWatch: Vision Loss

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — There’s a little-known health problem that can afflict young, overweight women and cause vision loss and blindness. Its a condition that mimics having a brain tumor but the real problem is too much pressure in the head.

Here’s what happens and what you can do about it, Dr. Max Gomez reports.

“I started experiencing severe headaches and very blurred vision. So I visited a bunch of ERs and was given a lot of medication but then my eyes started to cross,” said Devon McKnight, 32.

That was when she was in college. When doctors looked in her eyes, they saw something that could be a sign of a brain tumor. The optic nerve at the back of her eye was swollen.

“It was pretty scary. It was hard to see and to walk,” she said.

Brain scans and a spinal tap ruled out the really bad things like tumors. The diagnosis was something called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, meaning Devon had too much spinal fluid in her head and the pressure was squeezing her optic nerve, causing the vision loss.

“We think that there might be increased spinal fluid production, or there may be decreased re-absorption of the normal circulation of spinal fluid in the head, so that the pressure builds up,” said Dr. Mark Kupersmith of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Medication and weight loss took care of the problem but then over the next eight or nine years, Devon put the weight back on, plus some.

“My vision started blurring and then blacking out,” said Devon said.

Dr. Kupersmith has seen thousands of patients with this condition. “This is a disorder of predominantly young women, and almost all of them are overweight. I think that as the population gets heavier and the obesity rate goes up, we’re goning to see a real epidemic of this disorder.”

This time medication didn’t work for Devon and she was losing vision quickly so she ended up having a shunt placed in her brain to drain off excess fluid.

But no one really knows what the best treatment is, so Dr. Kupersmith is leading a nationwide study to compare high dose diamox, a drug, to a placebo. Both groups will also get a weight loss program.

Either way, Devon learned her lesson. “It took some time for my vision to come back and there was some permanent damage to my optic nerve in my right eye. So it will never be perfect again but I do really well, I can drive, do everything.”

Devon also said she learned her lesson and is working at losing her excess weight and keeping it off. Now clearly, not every overweight person develops this problem, but the incidence seems to be going up along with our national waistline.

So if you needed another reason to lose weight, how about not losing your eyesight?

Comments

One Comment

  1. Khrystine Duncan says:

    This segment was misguided and misleading. I am 40. I have IH. I have a brain shunt. I am not overweight. I got IH from having mono when I was 13. There are men and children with the disease and many patients are not overweight. In fact there is a Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH that has dedicated an entire wing to treating children with this disorder. Because of your segment IH patients everywhere will be wrongly judged by the general community. Additionally, thinner, symptomatic patients will continue to go undiagnosed because they don’t fit the “profile”. And shame on you for describing Devon as “having learned her lesson”…as if IH were punishment for eating too much! SHAME!

  2. shaneke says:

    I am a black female living in Jamaica and at the beginning of this year I started experiencing the same symptoms as Devon and now Im legally blind in one eye and can hardly see out the other. I have done a CT scan, MRI and a Lumbar Puncture. I was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease Neuro myelitis Optica and placed on the steroid Prednisone. Seeing this segment I’m thinking maybe I was mis diagnosed and I would love to be apart of the study

  3. Paula says:

    CBS should do another segment and invite Dr. Tanne from the IHRFoundation to be a part of it. There is so much more that needs to be said about this disorder. NOT everyone that gets this disorder is overweight. And weight loss does not work for everyone. I get the difference between Idiopathic and secondary IH, but CBS needs to do another piece and let the whole story be told..

  4. Keeping Hope says:

    It really is too bad that this comes across as weight related condition. My 11 year old daughter (slim build) went blind essentially overnight and for weeks after. She’s been diagnosed with IIH and just had risky surgery to save her vision. We are now discussing shunt surgery to relieve her of all the other symptoms this horrible disease can bring. This came COMPLETELY out of the blue for her as far as the doctors can tell. This condition desrves a much more detailed and inclusive segment. This isn’t nearly good enough or representative of who is affected and how we are affected.

  5. APRIL LEEDY says:

    I HAVE IIH AND AM NOT OVERWIEIGHT, THIS SEGMENT SEEMES TO BE MORE TWARDS SCARING PEOPLE WHO ARE OVERWEGHT. AS AN IIH SUFFERER I WOULD LIKE TO SAY THAT WE ARE TRYING TO FIGHT TO RAISE AWARENES AND THIS IS NOT HOW TO DO IT. PLEASE GET SOME MORE FACTS AND DO A NEW SEGMENT!!

  6. Debra Mills says:

    Intracranial Hypertension effects men and woman of all ages and body weight.
    I was 50 years old and not overweight at the time I was diagnosed. I have had
    medications, spinal taps , eye surgery and now a programmable shunt to keep
    me from going blind. There are young kids as young as 4 years old who are dealing with
    this rare condition.
    This clip was more about being overweight than it was about the condition.

    1. Michelle Rosemary Franklin says:

      This condition hardly gets any recognition, any now that it has, i am disappointed with the slightly misguided facts that Debra has pointed out. As a person suffering from this condition, it surely isn’t as simple and it doesn’t only affect young women nor overweight women….Some facts need to get checked out.

  7. VoiceofWisdom says:

    Gee, thanks for the totally useful 411, Dr. Max. I can only wonder whether, as a chubby young chick, I am the 1 out of 132,357,005 who may actually suffer from this malady. Next time, I think you should try a REALLY important Health Watch disease — like, uh, psittacosis!

    1. Debra Mills says:

      VoiceofWisdom,
      It seems that you may lack a little in Wisdom to make a comment like that.
      Please take a moment and look you ” Intracranial Hypertension Foundation.”.

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