Jenna Brown from East Kilbride, was shocked to discover her weight could be the reason for her going blind. Here the 28-year-old explains….
My head pounded as I made my way upstairs to bed. I’d been suffering really bad headaches and tiredness for years. I’d been back and forth to see my GP, but he said it was nothing to worry about.
Then in 2009, I went to my local optician’s for a routine eye test. Looking into the back of my eyes, the optometrist paused.
‘There’s some swelling,’ she said.
I was referred to Southern General Hospital in Glasgow for more tests. There I had an MRI scan. Then…
‘You’ve got Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH),’ a consultant confirmed.
It’s a rare condition where the body over-produces fluid around the brain.
This in turn creates pressure on the optic nerves. Left untreated, it can lead to blindness. I was horrified.
‘What’s caused it?’ I asked, upset.
‘Well…’ the consultant began, nervously. ‘It’s more common in young, overweight women.’
I gulped. He didn’t need to say more.
See, aged 20, I wasn’t exactly slim! I tipped the scales at 14st – a size 16 and just 5ft 5in tall. I’d always been big. Years of large portions and too much of the wrong food had taken its toll. But I was in denial.
‘I’m not that big!’ I laughed, trying not to be offended. The consultant advised losing a bit of weight. And I was given medication to help stop fluid building up.
Back home I convinced myself I was fine as I was. So I carried on scoffing sandwiches, baked potatoes with lashings of butter and cheese…
In 2011, I met David, 26, through friends. And when I fell pregnant, I used it as an excuse to eat more. But during my pregnancy my headaches got worse. It felt like my head was being crushed in a vice. The pain was unbearable.
In September 2012 I gave birth to Leo. I hoped my headaches would let up a bit, but they didn’t.
Then one day when I was driving, my vision went black. It was like someone had turned out the lights, I couldn’t see a thing. Blinking frantically, my sight suddenly returned. It’d only lasted a few seconds, but the blackout had terrified me.
‘I thought I’d gone blind,’ I told David, still in shock.
When it happened again days later, I went to see my optometrist. Tests revealed my eyesight had deteriorated. I had a series of lumbar punctures to drain fluid from my spine, but it didn’t help much.
So, in January 2014, I had a shunt fitted to my spine to drain fluid. But there were complications and I had to have another operation. Then I got an infection and had to have even more surgery.
Months on, after eight surgeries, I’d had enough.
‘This is my own fault,’ I sobbed to David. I’d been warned about my weight but I’d not listened.
‘If I’m not careful, I’ll go blind and won’t see Leo grow up,’ I realised.
The thought terrified me.
My neurologist had suggested gastric-band surgery, as I wasn’t responding to treatment. So I spoke to my doctor who offered me the procedure, but I really wasn’t keen. My eyesight was deteriorating quickly and I couldn’t cope with anymore surgeries. I had to take matters into my own hands.
So, in August 2014, I joined Scottish Slimmers. By now I was a whopping 16st 7lb and wore a size-24.
I ditched sandwiches and crisps for healthy stir-fries and risotto. I could still eat the things I enjoyed – just low-calorie versions, cooked from scratch.
The weight fell off. After a month I’d already shed more than a stone. Motivated, I kept it up. And gradually my waistline deflated.
Incredibly, my headaches cleared up and I stopped having blackouts too. By January this year I’d shed 6st.
And when David and I tied the knot in March I was a svelte size 10.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he grinned, unable to take his eyes off me.
Since then I’ve managed to keep the weight off. And tests have revealed my eyes are much better.
I can’t believe I was in denial for so long.
My bulging belly and thighs nearly made me go blind. I’m determined not to go back to the way I was. I’ve lost the weight – and gained so much more!
Symptoms of IIH
- Severe, throbbing headaches
- Blurred vision, double vision and temporary sight loss
- Nausea and a ‘whooshing’ sound in the ears
- Left untreated, it can cause permanent blindness