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An Overview of Normal Tension Glaucoma

written by: Krow1975 • edited by: lrohner • updated: 1/15/2011

Normal tension glaucoma is a disorder where people have optic nerve damage without increased eye pressure. It's relatively common and some patients suffer with it for years before they realize there is a problem, which can make it more dangerous.

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    One of the main problems with this kind of glaucoma is that patients may not have any symptoms. If people never feel any pain in their eyes, they may not get an optical examination, and early detection is crucial with all forms of glaucoma. The first symptom people notice with normal tension glaucoma is usually vision damage. For example, they may suffer from distortion in their peripheral vision. Unfortunately, any vision damage patients suffer before the glaucoma is recognized is usually permanent.

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    Causes

    Nobody really knows what causes normal tension glaucoma, but there are a few theories. Many doctors believe that patients simply have weak optic nerves that can't withstand normal eye pressure, and this is thought to be primarily genetic. There is also a possibility that patients may have immune system disorders that cause their own body's to attack the retina. As of now, all this is pure theory and many studies are underway that may help doctors better understand the cause.

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    Risk Factors

    Japanese people seem to have a genetic predisposition for normal tension glaucoma, but nobody knows why. It also becomes more common as people age, and in America, more women are diagnosed than men. Doctors have also found a connection between cardiovascular disorders and this form of glaucoma, but the reason for the connection is unclear.

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    Treatment

    The most common approach to treating this variety of glaucoma is to decrease a person's eye pressure even lower than normal, and this is done using various medications. In theory, this approach should protect a more fragile optic nerve and slow or halt the progress of the disorder. In practice, this treatment approach has only produced mixed results, with about two thirds of patients responding positively. Doctors aren't sure why it doesn't help the other patients, but further studies are underway.

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    Dangers

    If it isn't treated, normal tension glaucoma can lead to blindness. It can actually be much more dangerous than other forms of glaucoma because many patients don't even know they have a problem for several years. It's very common for patients to suffer some level of vision damage with this kind of glaucoma, and doctors may not even do any diagnostic tests until vision damage is well underway.

    Doctors generally recommend that anybody with a family history of glaucoma problems should undergo regular testing just to make sure there isn't any optical nerve damage. On high risk patients, doctors will often perform these tests even if there aren't any symptoms present. The disorder can be diagnosed with a series of vision tests to see if any unrecognized damage has occurred. There is also usually an examination with a microscope that has a bright light on the end, illuminating deep into the eye, and allowing the ophthalmologist to see the optic nerve.

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    References

    The Glaucoma Foundation. Normal Tension Glaucoma

    Web MD. Normal Tension Glaucoma

    Glaucoma Research Foundation. What is Normal Tension Glaucoma?

    Glaucoma Research Foundation. Normal Tension Glaucoma Study