To understand the connection between glaucoma and high blood pressure, it’s important to find out what these two conditions are. Glaucoma is a type of progressive eye disease in which optic nerve cells are damaged by excess fluid pressure in the eye. It’s the second leading cause of blindness in North America, behind diabetes. Containing more than a million nerve fibers, the optic nerve connects the eye to the brain. This important nerve is responsible for carrying images to the brain. The optic nerve fibers make up a part of the retina that provides sight. This nerve fiber layer can be damaged if pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure) becomes too high. Over time, high pressure causes the nerve fibers to die, resulting in decreased vision. Vision loss and blindness will likely result if glaucoma is left untreated. Researchers feel that some types of glaucoma may be the result of not having good blood flow to the optic nerve.
Hypertension and Blood Vessel Damage
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can cause our normally elastic blood vessels to become firm. When blood vessels harden, they cause blood pressure to increase, which tends to accelerate atherosclerosis (plaque formation in the walls of the arteries).
Atherosclerosis often leads to blood vessel obstruction, and can produce heart attacks, strokes and other serious problems. Furthermore, blood vessels may become weak over time from high blood pressure, and weak areas can develop. These weak areas in the blood vessels collect blood and become aneurysms. Aneurysms can burst and leak blood, causing damage to organs.
High Blood Pressure and Glaucoma
It was once thought that a little high blood pressure could be good for glaucoma. Having high blood pressure ensures that there is good blood flow to the nerve tissues of the eye. However, according to new studies, long term high blood pressure increases one’s risk for developing glaucoma. Other studies have shown that having high blood pressure may be a risk factor for glaucoma. It seems that hypertension might damage the blood vessels in the eye so that they can’t compensate for changes in blood flow when eye pressure increases.