Researchers caution users of "the pill" not to be alarmed by study connecting long-term usage and glaucoma risk

Recent research has found that women who have taken oral contraceptives for more than three years are twice as likely to report a diagnosis of glaucoma compared to women who do not take the drugs.

While the study's findings suggest that oral contraceptives might play a role in glaucomatous diseases, the researchers caution that women taking "the pill" should not be alarmed as the study does not speak directly to the causative effect of the drugs on the development of the eye disease and stress that further research into the connection is needed.

The researchers – based at University of California, San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University, China – recommend that gynecologists and ophthalmologists be aware of the findings, and that long-term oral contraceptive users consider speaking with their doctors about being screened for glaucoma only if they have other existing risk factors.

The study utilized 2005-2008 data from a survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control, which included 3,406 female participants aged 40 years or older from across the United States who completed a vision and reproductive health questionnaire and underwent eye exams. It found that females who had used oral contraceptives, no matter which kind, for longer than three years are 2.05 times more likely to also report that they have the diagnosis of glaucoma, after adjustment for age, ethnicity, and other potential confounding factors.

Previous studies in the field have shown that estrogen may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of glaucoma.

The American Academy Ophthalmology recommends that people of any age with glaucoma symptoms or glaucoma risk factors, such as those with diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, or those of African descent, should see an ophthalmologist for an exam. Based on the results of the initial screening, your ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.

Adults 65 or older should have an eye exam every one to two years, or as recommended by your ophthalmologist.

Page updated Nov. 25, 2013

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