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November 1, 2010 - A nationwide study in Taiwan compared glaucoma patients with people who did not have this eye disease and found that the glaucoma patients were significantly more likely to have other serious health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers and/or liver disease.
The study is published in November's Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
"Doctors who treat glaucoma or these other medical conditions should be aware that their patients may have multiple illnesses; medical specialists should test and treat such patients accordingly and work collaboratively to provide the best, safest care," said lead researcher Jai-Der Ho, MD, PhD, of Taipei Medical University, Taiwan.
Dr. Ho and his colleagues reviewed year 2005 medical records of 76,673 people with open-angle glaucoma (OAG), the most common form of this sight-threatening illness, and compared them with 230,019 people without OAG, matched for age, gender and other factors.
More than half of the OAG patients had hypertension (high blood pressure), and more than 30 percent had either diabetes or hyperlipidemia (high levels of unhealthy fats in the blood). The prevalence of these diseases as well as stroke, liver disease or ulcer was at least 3 percent higher in OAG patients than in controls.
Glaucoma can be considered a systemic disease, rather than a disorder of the eyes only. One theory says that glaucoma may result from abnormalities in the blood vessels and circulation that nourish the optic nerve, eye and brain. For example, when a person has hypertension, blood vessels in the retina -- the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye that conveys images to the optic nerve -- may also become narrow and constricted, a condition associated with OAG.
Other studies have found significant associations between glaucoma, stroke, and migraine. And glaucoma itself can lead to other health problems: when OAG damages vision so that a person is less able to read, drive, or enjoy other aspects of daily life, he or she is at higher risk for depression or other psychological illnesses.
Glaucoma remains undiagnosed in as many as 50 percent of people who have it. Dr. Ho's study took precautions to ensure that people in the control group were unlikely to have missed diagnoses.
Since nearly all subjects in this study were ethnically Chinese, the study results may not apply to other populations.
Last reviewed on March 05, 2011