What is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG)?

Updated: Mar 16, 2020
  • Author: Kristin Schmid Biggerstaff, MD; Chief Editor: Inci Irak Dersu, MD, MPH  more...
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The definition of glaucoma has changed drastically since its introduction around the time of Hippocrates (approximately 400 BC). The word glaucoma came from the ancient Greek word glaucosis, meaning clouded or blue-green hue, most likely describing a patient having corneal edema or rapid evolution of a cataract precipitated by chronic elevated pressure. Over the years, extensive refinement of the concept of glaucoma has continued to the present date.

Glaucoma is currently defined as a characteristic progressive degeneration of the optic nerve, which may also lead to specific visual field defects over time. This process can be slowed by adequate lowering of intraocular pressure (IOP). Nevertheless, some controversy still exists as to whether IOP should be included in the definition, as some subsets of patients can exhibit the characteristic optic nerve damage and visual field defects while having an IOP within the normal range. The generic term glaucoma should only be used in reference to the entire group of glaucomatous disorders as a whole, because multiple subsets of glaucomatous disease exist. A more precise term should be used to describe the glaucoma, if the specific diagnosis is known.

Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is glaucoma in the presence of open anterior chamber angles. It manifests by cupping of the optic disc (shown in the image below), in the absence of other known causes of glaucomatous disease. [1, 2]

Advanced glaucomatous damage with increased cuppin Advanced glaucomatous damage with increased cupping and substantial pallor of the optic nerve head. Courtesy of M. Bruce Shields, MD.

POAG may develop in the absence of documented elevated IOP. This condition has been termed normal-tension or low-tension glaucoma.

People who maintain elevated pressures in the absence of nerve damage or visual field loss exist. They are considered at risk for glaucoma and have been termed ocular hypertensives (see Ocular Hypertension). POAG is a major worldwide health concern, because of its usually silent, progressive nature, and because it is one of the leading preventable causes of blindness in the world. With appropriate screening and treatment, glaucoma usually can be identified and its progress arrested before significant effects on vision occur.

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