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Glaucoma Risk Increases with Estrogen after Menopause

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Glaucoma is an eye condition which is characterized by elevated fluid pressure within the eyes. If this is left untreated the sufferer may become blind and lose his or her sense of vision. This disease often affects both eyes and is one of the leading causes of blindness around the world. Recent reports say that the level of estrogen during menopause has something to do with the risk for acquiring glaucoma.

Glaucoma

For us to understand what glaucoma is all about, let us first review the anatomy of the eye. In the front of the eye lies a small space called the anterior chamber. The anterior chamber serves as a space where clear liquid flows in and out to bathe and nourish the nearby tissues. However, in a person with glaucoma, there is a defect in the movement of clear fluid within the anterior chamber, so that either there is little or no drainage out of the eye. As a result, fluid builds up within the eye and pressure within the eye rises. This pressure within the eye needs to be reduced as soon as possible so that there would be no damage to the optic nerve and other parts of the eye. Eye damage caused by elevated pressures within the eye can lead to loss of vision.

There are two main types of glaucoma”open angle and closed angle. The term angle refers to the trabecular meshwork where the fluid in the eye flows in between the iris and the cornea. This angle is lined up by trabeculocytes. Fluid drains into the Schlemm's canal which further flows into the bloodstream. Primary open angle glaucoma is a type of glaucoma that progresses slowly, so that the sufferer may not feel any symptoms and there is gradual loss of vision that may go unnoticed. Usually, people with primary open angle glaucoma do not seek any help until there is permanent damage already.

On the other hand, closed angle glaucoma or acute angle closure glaucoma is a type of glaucoma with sudden onset of symptoms so that the patient can experience pain and rapid vision loss. This makes the sufferer seek medical help immediately so that there is prompt treatment to stop permanent damage from occurring. There are also other two types of glaucoma: low-tension glaucoma and pigmentary glaucoma. Low-tension glaucoma occurs when there is no change in pressure yet there is still optic nerve damage. Experts think that low-tension glaucoma is a result of oversensitivity of the optic nerve or atherosclerosis of the blood vessel supplying the optic nerve.

Another type of glaucoma, pigmentary glaucoma, develops during early adulthood or middle age. In this type of glaucoma, there are pigment granules that arise from the back of the iris which are dispersed within the eye. Once there is the buildup of granules within the trabecular meshwork, the flow of fluids within the eye is affected, further leading to a rise in blood pressure. There are some factors which affect the trabecular meshwork, such as running and other sports.

The signs and symptoms of glaucoma include loss of peripheral vision affecting both eyes, tunnel vision, severe eye pain, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, halo-like lights in the visual fields, and other vision problems. Risks factors for glaucoma include old age, ethnic background, some illnesses, injuries, eye surgery, myopia, and the use of corticosteroids.

Glaucoma Risk and Estrogen

Recently, there is news that women who take estrogen-only hormonal replacement therapies for the relief of menopausal symptoms can reduce their risk for glaucoma. This study done by researchers from the University of Michigan evaluated more than 152, 000 women, 60,000 of which had at least one prescription for estrogen-only therapy. The researchers found out that each month of estrogen use decreased glaucoma risk by 0.4 percent and that this reduction of risk accumulated over time.

The researchers suggest to drug companies to begin studying with estrogen therapy as a treatment for glaucoma. You can read more about glaucoma in our other articles on this site.