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Birth Control Pills Linked To Glaucoma

Janelle Cabuco |
November 19, 2013 | 11:57 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Birth control pills have been linked to the world's second leading cause of blindness (Lookcatalog / Flickr Creative Commons).
Birth control pills have been linked to the world's second leading cause of blindness (Lookcatalog / Flickr Creative Commons).
New research finds that prolonged usage of birth control pills may increase a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with glaucoma, a degenerative eye condition that can permanently damage one’s vision and lead to blindness. 

Researchers presented a study on Nov. 18 in New Orleans at the 117th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that showed a correlation between reproductive care and eye health. In their study, researchers looked at a survey conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that included data of more than 3,400 women aged 40 and older in the United States.

Scientists from University of California, San Francisco, Duke University, and Nanchang University said the data showed that women who had taken any kind of birth control pills for more than three years were more than twice as likely to develop glaucoma in the future than those who had not taken birth control pills.

There is a 1.86 percent risk of developing glaucoma after the age of 40; so doubling that would bring one's risk up to a bit under 4 percent. 

However, this study has been considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed study.

Though doctors have known that cells in one’s eyes have estrogen receptors, this is the first study that reports a link between glaucoma and oral contraceptives. Many are skeptical.

Michael Bonavente, a medical assistant at St. Mary’s Medical Center, disagrees with this study. Bonavente points out that there has been an increase in blindness and loss of eye vision in general, so the use of birth control may not necessarily have anything to do with developing glaucoma.

Bonavente said, “There was a study conducted more than 40 years ago showing that people have been showing up with cataracts more now than ever; there has been an increase in cataracts in people under the age of 50 nowadays. I work in surgery and you wouldn’t believe how many people come in for eye surgeries.”

Researchers say that this correlation may exist because birth control pills lower estrogen levels, which have been seen as a risk factor for glaucoma. Studies have shown that a woman’s risk of developing glaucoma increases after menopause, which is when a woman’s estrogen levels decrease.

Researchers also found that a woman’s race, age, eye health history, and age of her first period have an effect on her likelihood of developing glaucoma. The National Eye Institute states that those most at risk for glaucoma are African Americans over the age of 40, Mexican Americans over the age of 60, people with a family history of glaucoma, and people with a history of eye pressure. 

“I believe the main problem is the food people are eating,” said Bonavente. “Food industries use too much chemicals and growth hormones to make everything we eat bigger. So when we ingest these non-organic foods, the chemicals harm us.”

There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but if detected early, treatments can slow its progression. Since a person may not experience any symptoms until they begin to lose their vision, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone over the age of 40 get a full eye screening every few years, and every one to two years for those older than 65. 

Though researchers claim this study does not demonstrate a cause and effect of birth control pills and glaucoma, researchers at Duke University plan to continue analyzing this correlation.

Reach Staff Reporter Janelle Cabuco here



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