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Treating glaucoma early lowers economic burden

Treatments that delay the progression of glaucoma may significantly reduce the economic health burden on people with the disease and on the U.S. health system, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University Eye Center and elsewhere. Their findings appear in the January 9, 2006, issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

The team determined that patients with early-stage or suspected glaucoma use approximately $623 per year in health care resources, while patients with end-stage disease consume approximately $2,511. The cost of medication was responsible for one-third to half of the total direct cost to consumers.

"It is imperative that patients with glaucoma be well-monitored for changes in their disease," said Paul Lee, M.D., a glaucoma specialist at Duke University Eye Center and lead author on the study. "Our results prove what we've thought for a long time that the disease gets more expensive as it worsens. With effective treatments at earlier stages, the progression of disease can be slowed or halted saving both the patient and society from greater economic burden."

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., affecting an estimated 2.2 million adults, the researchers said. Experts anticipate the overall number of people living with glaucoma to rise as the number of elderly Americans increases. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the cells and fibers of the optic nerve, interrupting the transmission of visual signals from the eye to the brain. The disease is believed to be caused by a level of intraocular pressure (IOP) that is too high, although other mechanisms are likely to be involved since people can develop the disease and have a normal IOP. Many people go undiagnosed during early stages of the disease because symptoms are virtually undetectable without an eye exam.

In their study, the team sought to determine whether the costs of managing glaucoma varied as the disease progressed in order to un
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Contact: Tracey Koepke
koepk002@mc.duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
9-Jan-2006


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