Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Birth Control Use May Increase Risk of Glaucoma

A recent study presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology 2013 meeting showed that women over age 40 taking oral contraceptives for 3 years or more were twice as likely to develop a glaucoma diagnosis.  

Glaucoma results in slow optic nerve damage at the back of the eye due to various factors which can but may not include abnormally high eye pressure.  If left undiagnosed or untreated, irreversible vision loss can gradually occur.  Early stages are typically present with no symptoms, which is why early detection and intervention are essential in minimizing or preventing vision loss. 

It is important to note that the exact correlation between oral contraceptives and glaucoma has not been determined.  Estrogen is thought to be protective against glaucoma, and post-menopausal women are more at risk compared to men of similar age.  Oral contraceptives control the amount of estrogen in the body, and this alteration in hormonal levels may be a contributing factor in glaucoma development.  This has not been proven as of yet, however this study implies a potential glaucoma risk factor in addition to others (family history, race, age, high eye pressures, even history of migraine). 

Until there is conclusive data linking oral contraceptive use and glaucoma, it is prudent to make a note of any history of long term oral contraceptive use, and screen for glaucoma with annual eye examinations.