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Researchers examined the effectiveness of the inexpensive drug, called acetazolamide (Diamox), in women and men with the condition known as "idiopathic intracranial hypertension." According to the researchers, the disorder primarily affects overweight women of reproductive age, and 5 percent to 10 percent of women with it suffer disabling vision loss.
This study included 161 women and four men with idiopathic intracranial hypertension and mild vision loss. The investigators found that adding acetazolamide to a weight-loss plan featuring calorie reduction, lowered salt intake and exercise boosted vision improvement in these patients.
Specifically, the vision of those who took the drug improved twice as much after six months compared to those who took an inactive placebo, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute-funded study published April 22 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Our results show that acetazolamide can help preserve and actually restore vision for women with [idiopathic intracranial hypertension] when combined with a moderate but comprehensive dietary and lifestyle modification plan," Dr. Michael Wall, a professor of neurology and ophthalmology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said in a National Eye Institute (NEI) news release.
Doctors need more guidance in treating this condition, another expert noted.
"The vision problems associated with this condition can be extremely debilitating, at significant cost to patients and the health care system. Yet there are no established treatment guidelines. We made it a priority to develop an evidence-based treatment for helping patients keep their vision," Eleanor Schron, director of clinical applications at NEI, said in the news release.
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension occurs when increased pressure within the fluid-filled spaces inside and around the brain causes swelling and damage to the optic nerve, according to the news release. Common symptoms include headache and eye problems such as blind spots, poor side vision, double vision and temporary spells of blindness.
Acetazolamide reduces fluid production in the brain and is often used as an additional treatment -- along with weight loss -- for people with idiopathic intracranial hypertension. However, there has been little evidence that the drug is effective in such cases.
About 100,000 Americans have idiopathic intracranial hypertension, according to the news release, and that number is rising due to the nation's obesity epidemic.
-- Robert Preidt
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