Mental stress as consequence and cause of vision loss: the dawn of psychosomatic ophthalmology for preventive and personalized medicine

Abstract

The loss of vision after damage to the retina, optic nerve, or brain has often grave consequences in everyday life such as problems with recognizing faces, reading, or mobility. Because vision loss is considered to be irreversible and often progressive, patients experience continuous mental stress due to worries, anxiety, or fear with secondary consequences such as depression and social isolation. While prolonged mental stress is clearly a consequence of vision loss, it may also aggravate the situation. In fact, continuous stress and elevated cortisol levels negatively impact the eye and brain due to autonomous nervous system (sympathetic) imbalance and vascular dysregulation; hence stress may also be one of the major causes of visual system diseases such as glaucoma and optic neuropathy. Although stress is a known risk factor, its causal role in the development or progression of certain visual system disorders is not widely appreciated. This review of the literature discusses the relationship of stress and ophthalmological diseases. We conclude that stress is both consequence and cause of vision loss. This creates a vicious cycle of a downward spiral, in which initial vision loss creates stress which further accelerates vision loss, creating even more stress and so forth. This new psychosomatic perspective has several implications for clinical practice. Firstly, stress reduction and relaxation techniques (e.g., meditation, autogenic training, stress management training, and psychotherapy to learn to cope) should be recommended not only as complementary to traditional treatments of vision loss but possibly as preventive means to reduce progression of vision loss. Secondly, doctors should try their best to inculcate positivity and optimism in their patients while giving them the information the patients are entitled to, especially regarding the important value of stress reduction. In this way, the vicious cycle could be interrupted. More clinical studies are now needed to confirm the causal role of stress in different low vision diseases to evaluate the efficacy of different anti-stress therapies for preventing progression and improving vision recovery and restoration in randomized trials as a foundation of psychosomatic ophthalmology.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Sundara Ram of the Mountain Top Clinic, Coonor, India, for pointing us to the Sanskrit source of Susruta [10].

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Correspondence to Bernhard A. Sabel.

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B. Sabel is co-owner of a private medical practice (www.savir-center.com) where the two patients described in this paper were treated.

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For this type of study, formal consent is not required. We thank our patients for their consent to publish their case histories.

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Sabel, B.A., Wang, J., Cárdenas-Morales, L. et al. Mental stress as consequence and cause of vision loss: the dawn of psychosomatic ophthalmology for preventive and personalized medicine. EPMA Journal 9, 133–160 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13167-018-0136-8

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Keywords

  • Low vision
  • Psychology
  • Psychosomatic medicine
  • Relaxation
  • Restoration
  • Stress
  • Predictive
  • Preventive
  • Personalized medicine