The Japan Glaucoma Society has said that an estimated 4 million people in this country suffer glaucoma, an eye disease that causes a decrease or complete loss of vision, and urged improved checkups.

The society said that a study it conducted indicates that one in 17 Japanese over age 40 has glaucoma. The prevalence rate is 5.8 percent, almost double that of Caucasians.

The group is urging Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi to expand ophthalmic examinations for early detection of the disease.

The study was conducted in Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, by the society and the municipal government over a 1 1/2-year period. They analyzed eye exam results of about 3,000 people over age 40.

The findings show little difference in the glaucoma prevalence rate by gender, but the rate rises rapidly by age, from 2.3 percent for people in their 40s to 13.1 percent for people in their 70s.

About 70 percent of the glaucoma cases in the study were of open angle glaucoma, which occurs when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time.

But the study found that more than half of the open angle glaucoma cases were not accompanied by a rise of inner eye pressure, making it difficult for eye pressure exams alone to detect the disease.

An earlier study by the society in seven regions nationwide in 1988 and 1989 showed the possibility of one in 30 people suffering the disease.

“Glaucoma can happen to anybody,” said Yoshiaki Kitazawa, head of the society. “The disease progresses slowly while one is unaware.”

Kitazawa suggested that people over 40 years old get eye tests, such as checks on the back of the eye and optic nerves, on a regular basis.

Although some glaucoma cases were due to fatigue, the cause of many other cases remains unknown. If treated in the early stage, the rise in inner eye pressure can be contained by eye medicine and other treatments. It can result in vision loss if left unattended.

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