Medical research

Yoga and risk of glaucoma

Print edition : February 05, 2016

Certain yoga positions can increase intraocular pressure Photo: PLOS One

GLAUCOMA patients may experience increased eye pressure when performing several different head-down positions while practising yoga, according to a new study published by researchers at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE) in the journal PLOS One.

In glaucoma patients, damage to the optic nerve occurs when fluid pressure inside the eye rises, and the disease can result in irreversible blindness. Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is the most common known risk factor for glaucomatous damage and, at present, the only factor for which treatment has a proven effect on preventing or slowing the progression of the disease. “While we encourage our patients to live active and healthy lifestyles, including physical exercise, certain types of activities, including push-ups and lifting heavy weights, should be avoided by glaucoma patients due to the risk of increasing IOP and possibly damaging the optic nerve,” said Robert Ritch, senior author and Director, Glaucoma Research, NYEE.

In previous research, studies and case reports had tested only the headstand position, which showed a marked twofold rise in IOP. In the new study, researchers had healthy participants with no eye-related disease and glaucoma patients perform a series of inverted yoga positions, including downward facing dog, standing forward bend, plough, and legs up the wall. They measured the IOP in each group at baseline seated, immediately after assuming the pose, two minutes while holding the pose, right after they performed each pose in the seated position, and then again 10 minutes after resting in the seated position. Both normal and glaucoma study participants showed a rise in IOP in all four yoga positions, with the greatest increase of pressure occurring during downward facing dog. When the measurements were taken after the participants returned to a seated position and again after waiting 10 minutes, the pressure in most cases remained slightly elevated from the baseline.

“While our study results don’t show a dramatic difference in IOP between the normal participants and those with glaucoma, we believe that additional research, with a larger study population and longer durations of practising the inverted positions is warranted,” said the first author, Jessica Jasien, research associate at NYEE. “The rise in IOP after assuming the yoga poses is of concern for glaucoma patients... glaucoma patients should share with their yoga instructors their disease to allow for modifications during the practice of yoga.”

R. Ramachandran

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