Women who have taken oral contraceptives may be twice as likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma. But whether contraceptives actually cause glaucoma remains unclear.
Researchers with the University of California, San Diego, Duke
University School of Medicine and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang
University in Nanchang, China, gleaned three-year data from the Center
for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
(NHANES) and found that women age 40 and older who had used oral
contraceptives for three years or longer are twice as likely to be
diagnosed with glaucoma. The findings were presented at the annual
meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in November.
“The message is that long-term use of oral contraceptives may be
considered an additional risk factor associated with increased incidence
of primary open-angle glaucoma in women,” says Sherry Bass, OD, of SUNY
College of Optometry.
Dr. Bass notes that the current study reflects similar results from a
2011 Nurses’ Health Study, which found a 25% higher glaucoma risk among
women who used birth control pills.
However, more study is needed, “since the information is preliminary at best,” says Kathy Yang-Williams, OD, who
practices in Seattle with an emphasis on glaucoma.
“This study shows an associative, but not necessarily causal,
relationship between oral contraceptives and glaucoma,” she says. “These
findings should not affect ODs in their practice with regards to the
diagnosis of glaucoma. If a patient takes oral contraceptives, then this
should be noted as part of the review of systems and this factor added
to the basic risk profile.”
The study’s researchers say they hope it will serve as an impetus for further research to prove potential causative effects.