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Eye Disease: The Atrial Fibrillation Link to Glaucoma

This article was first published May 26, 2017 Last updated: March 15, 2019

Atrial Fibrillation patients are at high risk for developing Glaucoma. You may have Glaucoma right now and not know it because Glaucoma is often asymptomatic. Patients often have no eye complaints and have a normal range of intraocular pressure (IOP).

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness.

Like Atrial Fibrillation, Glaucoma is a progressive disease. It usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness for people over 60 years old.

Glaucoma: damage to the optic nerve

However, with early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss. (See VIDEO below.)

Atrial Fibrillation Linked with Glaucoma

Research shows a connection between cardiac arrhythmias and Glaucoma. Glaucoma may be related to “ischemia” (when your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen) and has been linked with Atrial Fibrillation

A 2017 research study at Medical University of Warsaw (Zaleska-Zmijewska) looked at the rate of Glaucoma in patients with Atrial Fibrillation.

Though it was a relatively small sample size of 117 patients (79 with A-Fib and a control group of 38 with sinus rhythm), participants were matched for age and sex. Ophthalmic examinations were conducted between October 2014 and December 2015.

Normal-tension glaucoma (NTG) is a form of glaucoma in which damage occurs to the optic nerve without eye pressure exceeding the normal range.

Study findings: Normal-tension glaucoma was diagnosed almost 3 times more often in patients with A-Fib than in the control group. Just like an A-Fib diagnosis, normal-tension glaucoma is highly dependent on age. The older the patient, the greater the risk of glaucoma.

A-Fib increases risk of Glaucoma: Independent of other known cardiovascular risk factors, this research study and others have found that A-Fib increases the risk of developing normal-tension glaucoma.

Among A-Fib patients, glaucoma is found especially among those who are female, 60+ years old, take the medication Warfarin and have high blood pressure.

What Patients Need to Know

What Glaucoma looks like during eye exam. A-Fib.com

What Glaucoma looks like during eye exam.

While there are no known ways of preventing glaucoma, blindness or significant vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented if the disease is recognized in the early stages.

Know your risk: As a patient with Atrial Fibrillation, you’re at increased risk of glaucoma. If Glaucoma runs in your family, you are also at increased risk.

More frequent eye exams: When at higher risk of Glaucoma, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having regular eye examinations. If you’re 55 to 64 years old, that would be every one to three years; if you’re older than 65, then every one to two years. Ask your doctor to recommend the right screening schedule for you.

Most ophthalmologists will include a glaucoma test as part of your regular eye care. Make sure to have your eyes examined through dilated pupils.

With early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.

VIDEO: Glaucoma Animation: The causes of glaucoma, a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve. National Eye Institute, NIH. (40 sec.)

YouTube video playback: Click center arrow icon to watch.

References for this Article
• Fingeret, M. Take new approach to identify glaucoma risk factors not related to pressure. Primary Care Optometry News, November 2000. http://tinyurl.com/healio-glaucoma-afib

• Atrial fibrillation and Glaucoma – from FDA reports. ehealthme.com. Accessed Feb. 2, 2019. URL: http://www.ehealthme.com/cs/atrial%20fibrillation/glaucoma/

• Ritch, R. Glaucoma: The Systemic Disease Connection. Review of Ophthalmology. 27 October 2008. URL: https://www.reviewofophthalmology.com/article/glaucoma-the-systemic-disease-connection

• Facts About Glaucoma. The National Eye Institute (NEI)/U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Accessed Feb. 2, 2019. URL: https://nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts

• Glaucoma. MayoClinic.org Accessed Feb. 2, 2019. URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glaucoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20372839

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