Purtscher's retinopathy associated with acute pancreatitis

Ania M. Hamp, Edward Chu, William S. Slagle, Robert C. Hamp, Jeffrey T. Joy, Robert W. Morris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose. Purtscher's retinopathy is a rare condition that is associated with complement-activating systemic diseases such as acute pancreatitis. After pancreatic injury or inflammation, proteases such as trypsin activate the complement system and can potentially cause coagulation and leukoembolization of retinal precapillary arterioles. Specifically, intermediate-sized emboli are sufficiently small enough to pass through larger arteries yet large enough to remain lodged in precapillary arterioles and cause the clinical appearance of Purtscher's retinopathy. This pathology may present with optic nerve edema, impaired visual acuity, visual field loss, as well as retinal findings such as cotton-wool spots, retinal hemorrhage, artery attenuation, venous dilation, and Purtscher flecken. Case Report. A 57-year-old white man presented with an acute onset of visual field scotomas and decreased visual acuity 1 week after being hospitalized for acute pancreatitis. The retinal examination revealed multiple regions of discrete retinal whitening surrounding the disk, extending through the macula bilaterally, as well as bilateral optic nerve hemorrhages. The patient identified paracentral bilateral visual field defects on Amsler Grid testing, which was confirmed with subsequent Humphrey visual field analysis. Although the patient presented with an atypical underlying etiology, he exhibited classic retinal findings for Purtscher's retinopathy. After 2 months, best corrected visual acuity improved and the retinal whitening was nearly resolved; however, bilateral paracentral visual field defects remained. Conclusions. Purtscher's retinopathy has a distinctive clinical presentation and is typically associated with thoracic trauma but may be a sequela of nontraumatic systemic disease such as acute pancreatitis. Patients diagnosed with acute pancreatitis should have an eye examination to rule out Purtscher's retinopathy. Although visual improvement is possible, patients should be educated that there may be permanent ocular sequelae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e43-e51
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 4 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Purtscher's retinopathy
  • alcoholism
  • complement cascade
  • pancreatitis
  • purtscher flecken

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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