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Eye Health Center

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Glaucoma Runs in the Family

Researchers Call for Regular Screenings of Glaucoma Patients' Siblings

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 19, 2005 -- If you have a sister or brother with glaucoma, your risk of developing the eye impairment may be four times the expected population risk, according to a study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Based on these findings, the authors recommend siblings of glaucoma patients have their eyes checked every two years, even if the results of an initial screening are normal.

Glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve and can lead to blindness.

Researchers screened 271 siblings of glaucoma patients and found about 12% had glaucoma themselves. Of those who did not have glaucoma in the initial screening who were re-examined (159), 7% developed the condition by the time of a follow-up six to eight years later, and another 19% were suspected of having glaucoma. This data supports prior studies suggesting glaucoma runs in the family, and the risk increases with age.

1 in 5 May Develop Glaucoma

Based on the trends identified in the study, the authors estimate that a sister or brother of someone with glaucoma has about a one in five chance of developing glaucoma in a lifetime. This is at least four times the risk found in the general population. The authors say genetics and/or a shared environment could explain the findings.

The researchers also note that, on average, the participants had visited an optometrist about a year prior to the start of the study -- but none had been diagnosed with glaucoma. The fact that one in 10 then tested positive in the study suggests that optometrists may not always pick up glaucoma. For this reason, the researchers recommend formal glaucoma screenings for high-risk patients every two years.

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