BACKGROUND: Terson's syndrome (vitreous hemorrhage) and other ocular hemorrhages(retinal hemorrhages) have been reported to occur in up to 40% of patients with ruptured cerebral aneurysms. Because microsurgical vitrectomy can safely restore vision in patients with visual loss secondary to Terson's syndrome, we hypothesized that prospectively screening a selected group of patients with aneurysms would result in a higher rate of vitrectomy in patients with more extensive subarachnoid hemorrhage.
METHODS: Ninety-nine patients with ruptured cerebral aneurysms were prospectively screened for Terson's syndrome and other forms of ocular hemorrhage by an ophthalmologist. Follow-up data were obtained for seven of eight cases of Terson's syndrome, and vitrectomy was performed for visual restoration when indicated.
RESULTS: Ocular hemorrhages were present in 17% of patients with ruptured cerebral aneurysms, and Terson's syndrome was present in 8% of patients. Screening of patients with histories of transient or prolonged comas sensitively identified patients with ocular hemorrhages in 100% of the patients with Terson's syndrome and 89% of the patients with other ocular hemorrhages. Fifty-five percent of the patients in the overall series had histories of transient or prolonged comas, and 53% (specificity) of those patients had ocular hemorrhages. Two of the eight patients with Terson's syndrome underwent vitrectomy, with dramatic improvement in vision. No other ocular hemorrhages required surgery.
CONCLUSIONS: Ophthalmological screening of patients with histories of transient or prolonged comas after ruptured cerebral aneurysms very sensitively identifies patients with ocular hemorrhages, which are relatively common in patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage treated in an academic neurosurgical practice. The present study underestimates the true incidence of Terson's syndrome in that patients who died shortly after their subarachnoid hemorrhage were not included. Vitrectomy for patients who do not exhibit spontaneous improvement in vision results in a dramatic reversal of blindness.