The role of blood pressure in glaucoma


Dr Bang V Bui
Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010


Although intraocular pressure (IOP) remains an important risk factor for glaucoma, it is clear that other factors can also influence disease development and progression. More recently, the role that blood pressure (BP) has in the genesis of glaucoma has attracted attention, as it represents a clinically modifiable risk factor and thus provides the potential for new treatment strategies beyond IOP reduction. The interplay between blood pressure and IOP determines the ocular perfusion pressure (OPP), which regulates blood flow to the optic nerve. If OPP is a more important determinant of ganglion cell injury than IOP, then hypotension should exacerbate the detrimental effects of IOP elevation, whereas hypertension should provide protection against IOP elevation. Epidemiological evidence provides some conflicting outcomes of the role of systemic hypertension in the development and progression of glaucoma. The most recent study showed that patients at both extremes of the blood pressure spectrum show an increased prevalence of glaucoma. Those with low blood pressure would have low OPP and thus reduced blood flow; however, that people with hypertension also show increased risk is more difficult to reconcile. This finding may reflect an inherent blood flow dysregulation secondary to chronic hypertension that would render retinal blood flow less able to resist changes in ocular perfusion pressure. Here we review both clinical and experimental studies that have attempted to clarify the relationships among blood pressure, OPP and blood flow autoregulation in the pathogenesis of glaucoma.