Early predictor of glaucoma

Print edition : January 25, 2013

A new study has found that certain changes in blood vessels in the retina can be an early indicator of increased risk for glaucoma, an eye disease that slowly affects peripheral vision. Open-angle glaucoma (OAG), its most common form, affects nearly three million people in the U.S. and 60 million worldwide. Vision loss occurs when glaucoma damages the optic nerve. Unfortunately, because glaucoma does not have symptoms, many people do not know they have it until a good portion of their sight has been lost.

Tracking nearly 2,500 participants, the study, led by Paul Mitchell of the Centre for Vision Research, University of Sydney, found that the OAG risk at the 10-year mark was about four times higher in patients whose retinal arteries had been narrowest when the study began compared with those who had had the widest arteries. If confirmed by future research, this finding could give ophthalmologists a new way to identify and treat those who are most vulnerable to vision loss from glaucoma. The study was recently published online by the journal Ophthalmology. None of the participants had a diagnosis of OAG at the study’s outset. Compared with the study group as a whole, the patients who were diagnosed with OAG by the 10-year mark were older, had higher blood pressure or higher intraocular pressure at the study’s baseline, and were more likely to be female. Elevated intraocular pressure is often found in patients with OAG.

The tool designed to detect narrowing of the retinal artery diameter could effectively identify those who are most at risk for OAG. A symptomless eye disease like glaucoma highlights the importance of regular eye examinations. People who have a family history of glaucoma may be at higher risk.

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