Glaucoma — a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve — is a complex disease with many risk factors, including age, family history, and elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). However, links have also been found between glaucoma and several other health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea.
Understanding the connections between glaucoma and other health conditions is crucial because it can help doctors identify patients at higher risk of developing glaucoma or progressive glaucoma.
In addition, addressing underlying health conditions may also help prevent the development or progression of certain subtypes of glaucoma, such as neovascular glaucoma. For instance, controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes can reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy, thus substantially reducing the risk of subsequent neovascular glaucoma.
Continue reading to learn more about the connection between glaucoma and other medical conditions.
Historically, studies looking for links between glaucoma and diabetes have produced mixed results. However, more recent research suggests that diabetic patients are at higher risk of developing glaucoma and that the duration of diabetes may also increase the risk of glaucoma.
Researchers think the increased risk might be due to damaged blood vessels in the eyes, stress to cells in the eyes, or degeneration of nerves related to diabetes.
Additionally, diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes that damages the retina’s blood vessels, can lead to a specific type of glaucoma called neovascular glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can be particularly harmful and often results in vision loss.
Working closely with a primary care physician or endocrinologist to achieve good diabetes control is critical to maintaining eye health and vision.
Cardiovascular Disease and Blood Pressure
Cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and glaucoma may seem unrelated; however, several studies suggest there may be a connection between them. For example, a review published by the American Heart Association found that high and low blood pressure can increase the risk for glaucoma.
While the exact reason for the link between cardiovascular disease and glaucoma is unclear, some researchers believe it may be related to the blood vessels in the eye since cardiovascular disease and glaucoma involve changes in the blood vessels. Additionally, some medications used to treat cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, like beta-blockers, may affect the blood flow to the eye and may increase the risk of glaucoma in some people.
In patients who already have glaucoma, a study published in the journal Ophthalmology found cardiovascular disease was a significant risk factor for progression.
More research is needed to fully understand the connection between cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and the risks for glaucoma development and progression. However, individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease, and high or even low blood pressure, should be aware of their increased risk and schedule regular eye exams to detect any signs of eye problems.
Sleep apnea — a disorder in which a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep — is another condition with links to glaucoma. While the exact relationship between sleep apnea and glaucoma is not yet fully understood, it’s thought that the decreased oxygen supply associated with the condition may contribute to optic nerve damage.
While the exact connections between glaucoma and other medical conditions are not fully understood, it’s clear that early detection and treatment can help prevent the development or progression of glaucoma. Consequently, it’s essential for people with these conditions to have regular eye exams to detect any early signs of glaucoma.
Help Us Find a Cure
The diligent work of researchers continues to lead to a better understanding of glaucoma for all people. As a result, there’s great hope for new and improved treatments, including superior drug delivery methods, laser treatments, and less invasive surgical techniques. While there’s no cure for glaucoma, research continues to bring us closer to finding a cure and restoring vision loss from glaucoma.
Every contribution helps bring us closer to finding a cure for glaucoma. Whether you donate cash or stock, create a fundraising event, or even donate a vehicle or boat, your donation will give hope to those living with glaucoma and accelerate our research.
Posted April 12, 2023. This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Sarah Van Tassel, MD.
Sarah Van Tassel, MD
Sarah H. Van Tassel, MD is a fellowship-trained glaucoma specialist and Director of the Glaucoma Service and Glaucoma Fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine Ophthalmology in New York City.