Australian researchers have made a discovery that could help ophthalmologists find a new way to identify and treat certain patients likely to develop glaucoma. They have identified a new risk factor for the disease, which can be a silent theft of vision.
The University of Sydney scientists published their results in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. After reviewing diagnostic photos and other information from 2,500 patients from the Australian Blue Mountains Eye Study, they determined that having abnormally narrow retinal arteries is a new predictor for developing glaucoma, ScienceDaily reports.
According to the National Eye Institute, glaucoma is actually a group of diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness due to damage to the optic nerve. The most common type is open-angle glaucoma (OAG).
Since few glaucoma patients experience symptoms, early detection of the disease is essential to preserving sight. The Mayo Clinic indicates that common risk factors include elevated internal eye pressure, age older than 60, Mexican-American or African-American ethnicity, a family history of the disease, long-term use of corticosteroids, and certain medical conditions.
Nearly 3 million Americans have OAG. None of the Australian subjects had a diagnosis of OAG at the beginning of the study. When the researchers evaluated them 10 years later, OAG risk was four times higher in those who had the narrowest retinal arteries at the study's inception when compared to the patients with the widest.
The scientists also found those diagnosed with OAG 10 years into the study were older, experienced greater eye pressure, had higher blood pressure, and were more often female.
The research team concluded that development of a computer-based imaging tool to detect any narrowing of the diameter of retinal arteries could be very useful to opthalmalogists. It would facilitate identifying patients at risk because of the narrowing and give them an earlier chance of saving their vision. While development of such a tool apparently isn't underway yet, the scientists say it would need to be able to take into consideration blood pressure and other issues that can affect changes in blood vessels.
I fit several of the traditional risk factors for glaucoma. I have elevated blood pressure, experience unstable eye pressure, and have taken corticosteroids years at a time to treat Crohn's disease. One of the potential Crohn's complications is uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye. The Mayo Clinic indicates that having an inflammatory disorder like Crohn's is a risk factor for uveitis, which can lead to glaucoma.
An ophthalmologist carefully monitors my eyes at least twice a year. Intraocular pressure readings hover between the highest "normal" number and the lowest indicator of possible glaucoma. A tool that could identify an additional risk factor for glaucoma would be useful for patients like me whose diagnosis remains a question mark.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.
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