Ischemic optic neuropathy

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2009 Jan;28(1):34-62. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2008.11.002. Epub 2008 Nov 27.


Ischemic optic neuropathy is one of the major causes of blindness or seriously impaired vision, yet there is disagreement as to its pathogenesis, clinical features and especially its management. This is because ischemic optic neuropathy is not one disease but a spectrum of several different types, each with its own etiology, pathogenesis, clinical features and management. They cannot be lumped together. Ischemic optic neuropathy is primarily of two types: anterior (AION) and posterior (PION), involving the optic nerve head (ONH) and the rest of the optic nerve respectively. Furthermore, both AION and PION have different subtypes. AION comprises arteritic (A-AION - due to giant cell arteritis) and, non-arteritic (NA-AION - due to causes other than giant cell arteritis); NA-AION can be further classified into classical NA-AION and incipient NA-AION. PION consists of arteritic (A-PION - due to giant cell arteritis), non-arteritic (NA-PION - due to causes other than giant cell arteritis), and surgical (a complication of several systemic surgical procedures). Thus, ischemic optic neuropathy consists of six distinct types of clinical entities. NA-AION is by far the most common type and one of the most prevalent and visually crippling diseases in the middle-aged and elderly. A-AION, though less common, is an ocular emergency and requires early diagnosis and immediate treatment with systemic high dose corticosteroids to prevent further visual loss, which is entirely preventable. Controversy exists regarding the pathogenesis, clinical features and especially management of the various types of ischemic optic neuropathy because there are multiple misconceptions about its many fundamental aspects. Recently emerging information on the various factors that influence the optic nerve circulation, and also the various systemic and local risk factors which play important roles in the development of various types of ischemic optic neuropathy have given us a better understanding of their pathogeneses, clinical features and management. This knowledge should help us not only to manage them better but also to reduce their incidence. For example, clinically, the evidence that about 40% of NA-AION eyes experience spontaneous improvement in visual acuity and that systemic steroid therapy during early stages in both NA-AION and NA-PION has a significant beneficial effect for visual outcome are encouraging developments. This review discusses the current concepts on various issues related to various types of ischemic optic neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Optic Disk / pathology
  • Optic Neuropathy, Ischemic*