Glaucoma, Heart Disease and Chronic Illness

Fatigued mature woman taking off glasses suffering from eye strainStudies show glaucoma patients have a higher risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma, an optic nerve disease, affects more than 60.5 million people globally and is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness. Researchers suspect glaucoma may share common risk factors with other illnesses that are seemingly unrelated.

Glaucoma Connected to Multiple Illnesses

Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), the most common form of glaucoma, is known as the “sneak thief of sight.” Because it develops slowly and painlessly, about half of all POAG cases are undiagnosed.  However, POAG can reduce vision by 40 percent without notice, and the damage is irreversible.

Jai-Der Ho, M.D., Ph.D., of Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, led a 2010 study published in Ophthalmology comparing medical records of 75,000 patients with POAG and 230,000 patients without POAG. Dr. Ho found more than 50 percent of patients with POAG had hypertension and 30 percent had diabetes or elevated blood lipid levels. Dr. Ho concluded patients with POAG “may have multiple illnesses” and should be treated with “the best, safest care.”

A 2016 study using the National Health Insurance Database suggested glaucoma increases the risk of ischemic heart disease (coronary heart disease). Researchers found patients with POAG “had a significantly higher hazard of ischemic heart disease” compared to those without POAG.

Glaucoma: Eye Disease or Vascular Disease?

How is glaucoma, which affects the eyes, connected with diseases that affect other areas of the body like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol? Perhaps we need to look at glaucoma differently.

Some researchers assert glaucoma is a vascular disease instead of an eye disease. What if glaucoma develops from abnormal blood vessels or insufficient circulation and is not just an unexplainable sensitivity to inner eye pressure? If glaucoma has characteristics of a vascular disease, lifestyle changes that benefit your heart should also support your vision.

While there is no cure for glaucoma, you can prevent vision loss by managing your intraocular pressure (IOP). You can lower your IOP by:

  • Quitting smoking — Cigarette smoke increases your risk for IOP elevation, and it is also associated with cataracts and macular degeneration
  • Eating a nutritious diet — Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats like omega-3s supports healthy eyes and a strong heart
  • Avoiding caffeine and limiting alcohol
  • Exercising regularly — Aerobic exercise builds cardiovascular endurance and can help you manage IOP; certain activities like yoga can cause dangerous spikes in eye pressure so talk to your ophthalmologist about safe exercises

Schedule a Comprehensive Eye Exam

Call your ophthalmologist to make an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam with dilation. Your doctor will evaluate your visual acuity, test for eye diseases and give you a full assessment of your vision health. At your appointment, ask your doctor for more specifics about improving your diet, exercising safely and creating habits for better eye health and overall wellness.

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