October 22, 2014
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Study: High blood pressure may raise glaucoma risk

A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology shows having high blood pressure can not only raise your risk of having a heart attacks or stroke, it can also lead to glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.

Glaucoma occurs when a fluid buildup in the eye puts pressure on the optic nerve. One theory speculates that eventually this pressure cuts off the blood supply to the cells that transmit visual cues from the eyes to the brain. Over time this can cause blindness. However, because glaucoma is often painless many cases aren't caught in time to prevent vision loss.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham set out to probe the association between high blood pressure and glaucoma. They theorized that such a link could exist because hypertension is characterized by increased sodium retention, which could increase pressure in the eye.

To test this theory, Dr. Michael J. S. Langman and colleagues analyzed data from the General Practitioner Research Database, which contains information on four million British patients.

"Preliminary inquiry suggested some 30,000 cases of glaucoma were registered on the database, so that, given a 10% prevalence of hypertension in the general population, some 3,000 cases would be expected with both (hypertension and glaucoma) together by chance," the researchers wrote.

But after matching more than 27,000 people with glaucoma with the same number of people without, the researchers found that people with glaucoma were almost 30% more likely to have high blood pressure than those who did not have glaucoma. High blood pressure was defined as readings exceeding 179 mm/Hg systolic (the upper number) or 99 mm/Hg diastolic on at least one occasion.

The researchers also found that people using beta-blocker drugs were less likely to develop glaucoma than those using other hypertension drugs. But they noted that "raised odds ratios in takers of ACE inhibitors or calcium channel blocking agents are likely to represent failure to protect against a commonly associated disease, rather than increased risk caused by treatment."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends keeping blood pressure levels below 140 mm/Hg systolic and 90 mm/Hg diastolic to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. People who have other risk factors for these conditions may be advised to aim for even lower targets.

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, or medications to get your numbers within the desired range.


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