From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published January 2, 2013 09:38 AM

Early Predictor for Glaucoma Identified

Glaucoma is an eye disease which involves damage to the optic nerve. It can lead to permanent vision damage and lead to blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma often, but not always, involves increase fluid pressure inside the eye, known as intraocular pressure. A new study has found that certain changes in blood vessels in the retina may be an early warning that an individual has an increased risk of glaucoma. Researchers from the Australian Blue Mountains Eye Study showed that people with abnormally narrow retinal arteries at the beginning of their 10-year study were most likely to develop glaucoma by the end of the study.

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The most common form of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma (OAG), affecting nearly 3 million people in the USA and 60 million people globally. The loss of vision occurs when the glaucoma damages the optic nerve and signals are not passed from the retina to the brain.

Because there are no symptoms, the disease often sneaks up on people unaware of its existence until part of their vision is gone, making early detection extremely important.

The study, led by Paul Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D. from the University of Sydney, tracked almost 2,500 participants. The results support the conclusion that abnormally narrow retinal arteries were associated to four-fold increased risk of glaucoma.

Nobody had OAG at the beginning of the 10-year study. Those diagnosed with the eye disease at the end also tended to be older, had higher blood pressure or intraocular pressure at the beginning, and were more likely female. The results were adjusted for other factors such as family history of glaucoma, smoking, diabetes, etc.

"Our results suggest that a computer-based imaging tool designed to detect narrowing of the retinal artery caliber, or diameter, could effectively identify those who are most at risk for open-angle glaucoma," said Dr. Mitchell. "Such a tool would also need to account for blood pressure and other factors that can contribute to blood vessel changes. Early detection would allow ophthalmologists to treat patients before optic nerve damage occurs and would give us the best chance of protecting their vision."

The researchers advocate for regular eye exams to catch glaucoma, a symptomless disease, before it occurs or at least at its outset in order to save the patient's vision. The is particularly true for individuals over age 40.

For more information on taking care of your eye health, go to www.geteyesmart.org.

This study has been published in the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Eye exam image via Shutterstock

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