Facts from the Foundation of the ASRS
Retina Health Series
Committed to improving the quality of life of all people with retinal disease

Complex Retinal Detachment

Proliferative Vitreoretinopathy and Giant Retinal Tears

Proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR) is a condition in which retinal scar tissue, or “membranes” form; this may occur with a retinal detachment. A key risk factor for developing PVR is a giant retinal tear—a large tear that involves at least 25% of the retina. When PVR or a giant retinal tear is  present, a retinal detachment is classified as “complex.” 

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Many patients with PVR report symptoms of retinal traction  (pulling), such as floaters or flashes of light. Accumulation of fluid underneath the retina results in a loss of peripheral (side) vision. 

When the detachment involves the center of the retina, called the macula, central vision loss will occur. Patients with chronic retinal detachment may also develop problems such as elevated pressure in the eye and inflammation. 

Some patients experience no symptoms, particularly:

  • Younger patients
  • Cases where the macula is not involved
  • Patients whose detachment has progressed slowly 

But, most often, patients will have some visual symptoms.


Complex retinal detachments due to PVR are associated with retinal scar tissue or membranes; these ultimately contract, pull, and stretch the  retina, causing retinal tears or stretch holes. When the detached retina  contracts, so-called “star folds” often develop (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. A patient with complex retinal detachment due to PVR in the left eye. A retinal “star fold” is present in the inferior macular with associated subretinal fluid. (Photo courtesy Carl Regillo, MD)

The reason these membranes  form is uncertain, but it is thought  to be due to cells growing on the  retinal surface. Passage of liquefied vitreous gel through a retinal tear or hole results in an accumulation of fluid under the retina (subretinal fluid) and progression of the  retinal detachment. 

PVR most commonly occurs after a previous (primary) retinal detachment repair surgery. PVR is the most common cause of primary retinal detachment surgery failure, occurring in approximately 5% to 10% of all retinal detachments. Retinal detachment with a giant retinal tear, however, is relatively uncommon.

Risk factors

Many risk factors for PVR have been identified, including: 

  • Large or multiple retinal tears
  • Giant retinal tears
  • Vitreous hemorrhage—a leakage of blood into the gel that fills the eye cavity
  • Choroidal detachment—separation of the choroid from the sclera (the white of the eye)
  • Eye trauma (injury)
  • Multiple previous surgical  procedures 

Diagnostic testing

Viewing the retina with an indirect ophthalmoscope while the doctor applies gentle  pressure to the eye (scleral depression) is the primary method for diagnosing retinal detachment. When view of the retina is obscured (blocked)  by blood or dense cataract, B-scan ultrasonography can be used to determine the location and extent  of a retinal detachment (Figure 2). To confirm whether there is subretinal fluid in the macula, optical coherence tomography (OCT) may be used. 

Figure 2. B-scan ultrasound of a patient with PVR-related retinal detachment. A fixed retinal fold (yellow arrow) is seen with a cone-shaped retinal detachment. (Photo courtesy of Yale Fisher, MD. Retina Image Bank, © American Society of Retina Specialists.)

Treatment and prognosis

The only treatment option for complex retinal  detachment is retinal surgery. Patients may undergo pars plana vitrectomy with peeling of membranes, a scleral buckling procedure, or both. Use of special retinal detachment repair strategies, including retinectomy or perfluorocarbon liquid, may be necessary in patients with complex retinal detachments.   

Laser is also used in combination with the vitrectomy to seal the retinal breaks. Your surgeon will decide which procedure is best depending on the nature of your detachment. At the end of surgery, most patients with complex retinal detachment due to PVR or a giant retinal tear will receive a long-acting gas bubble or silicone oil filling into the vitreous cavity of the eye to hold the retina in position while the eye heals.   

Research is being conducted to find a medical therapy to prevent and treat PVR, but to date, none has proven effective in most patients.



  • Sophie J. Bakri, MD
  • Audina Berrocal, MD
  • Antonio Capone, Jr., MD
  • Netan Choudhry, MD, FRCS-C
  • Thomas Ciulla, MD, MBA
  • Pravin U. Dugel, MD
  • Geoffrey G. Emerson, MD, PhD
  • K. Bailey Freund, MD
  • Roger A. Goldberg, MD, MBA
  • Darin R. Goldman, MD
  • Dilraj Grewal, MD
  • Larry Halperin, MD
  • Vi S. Hau, MD, PhD
  • Suber S. Huang, MD, MBA
  • G. Baker Hubbard, MD
  • Mark S. Humayun, MD, PhD
  • Talia R. Kaden, MD
  • Peter K. Kaiser, MD
  • M. Ali Khan, MD
  • Ivana K. Kim, MD, FASRS

  • Eleonora Lad, MD, PhD

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  • Mathew J. MacCumber, MD, PhD
  • Maya Maloney, MD
  • Timothy G. Murray, MD, MBA
  • Hossein Nazari, MD
  • Oded Ohana, MD, MBA
  • Jonathan L. Prenner, MD
  • Gilad Rabina, MD
  • Carl D. Regillo, MD, FACS
  • Naryan Sabherwal, MD
  • Sherveen Salek, MD
  • Andrew P. Schachat, MD
  • Adrienne W. Scott, MD 
  • Michael Seider, MD
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  • Yoshihiro Yonekawa, MD


John T. Thompson, MD


  • J. Fernando Arevalo, MD, PhD
  • Gabriela Lopezcarasa Hernandez, MD
  • Andres Lisker, MD
  • Virgilio Morales-Canton, MD


  • Albert Li, MD


Tim Hengst

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