A new study has found that certain changes in blood vessels in the eye’s retina can be an early warning that a person is at increased risk for glaucoma.
Glaucoma has few symptoms in its early stages, but slowly robs people of their peripheral vision. It affects more than 60 million people worldwide. There is no cure but it can be controlled if caught early.
Using data from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, the researchers – led Professor Paul Mitchell from Sydney University’s Centre for Vision Research – showed that patients who had abnormally narrow retinal arteries when the study began were also those who were most likely to have glaucoma at its 10-year end point.
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.
…a computer-based imaging tool…could effectively identify those who are most at risk…
The findings of the new study support the concept that abnormal narrowing of retinal blood vessels is an important factor in the earliest stages of open-angle glaucoma (OAG).
Tracking nearly 2,500 participants, the study 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 the study group as a whole, the patients who were diagnosed with OAG by the 10-year mark were older, had had higher blood pressure or higher intraocular pressure at the study’s baseline, and were more likely to be female. Study results were adjusted for age, family history of glaucoma, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and other relevant factors.
“Our results suggest that a computer-based imaging tool designed to detect narrowing of the retinal artery caliber, or diameter, could effectively identify those who are most at risk for open-angle glaucoma,” said Professor Mitchell.
“Such a tool would also need to account for blood pressure and other factors that can contribute to blood vessel changes. Early detection would allow ophthalmologists to treat patients before optic nerve damage occurs and would give us the best chance of protecting their vision.”
The study was published online by the US journal Ophthalmology.