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Optic Atrophy

What is this condition?

Optic atrophy is degeneration of the optic nerve; it can develop spontaneously (primary form) or follow inflammation or swelling of the nerve head (secondary form). This condition may subside without treatment, but the nerve degeneration is irreversible.

What causes it?

Optic atrophy usually results from central nervous system disorders, such as:

. pressure on the optic nerve from an aneurysm or an intraorbital or intracranial tumor

. optic neuritis, which may occur in multiple sclerosis or other degenerative neurologic disorders.

What are its symptoms?

Optic atrophy causes painless loss of visual acuity or visual field defects, or both. Loss of vision may be abrupt or gradual, depending on the cause.

How is it diagnosed?

Slit-lamp examination and ophthalmoscopy confirm the diagnosis. Visual field testing reveals an abnormal blind spot (scotoma) and, possibly, a major visual field deficit.

How is it treated?

Optic atrophy is irreversible, so treatment generally consists of correcting the underlying cause to prevent further vision loss. Steroids may be given to decrease inflammation and swelling if a space-occupying lesion is the cause. In multiple sclerosis, optic neuritis often subsides spontaneously.

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