A recent study has shown that your risk of developing glaucoma is doubled when taking birth control pills. Scientists are warning that the popular method of birth control may very well be the leading cause of serious eye problems.
The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, shows that long-term use of oral contraceptives more than doubles the risk of glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness. Researchers questioned over 3,400 women over age 40 on their reproductive history and then gave them eye exams. It was found that those women who were on birth control pills for over three years were twice as likely to receive the glaucoma diagnosis. The brand of oral contraception was shown to make no difference in the findings. Prior research shows that estrogen levels may also play a role in developing glaucoma.
Researchers revealed that long term use of birth control pills is just one of the risk factors for developing glaucoma. Others include African American ancestry, diabetes, elevated pressure in the eye, family history of the disease, and near-sightedness.
Professor Shan Lin led the study at the University of California at San Francisco. Professor Lin said that further research is necessary to prove the cause and effect of birth control pills and their relation to glaucoma risk. He urged any woman who has taken birth control pills for over three years to have a glaucoma screening and to have their ophthalmologist give them routine eye exams, especially if other risk factors are present.
Glaucoma occurs when there is a build-up of fluid pressure in the eye. This results in severe and irreversible damage to the optic nerve. Out of the four main types of glaucoma, the most common is slow-developing chronic open-angle glaucoma. Another cause is primary closed-angle glaucoma, which is a rare form of the disease that occurs slowly but can develop quickly, and usually leads to irreversible vision loss in either one or both the eyes. The angle refers to the area of the eye between the cornea and iris. This is where fluid escapes. Closed-angle glaucoma is often quite painful, leading most to seek medical help before any real damage occurs. Open-angle progresses at a much slower rate. Patients usually don’t seek medical attention until the disease has progressed significantly.
Secondary glaucoma can be the result of injury or trauma to the eye. Congenital glaucoma is very rare and is usually developmental, caused by a birth defect.
Birth control pills are the most popular form of contraception among women worldwide. They are favored for their convenience and their effectiveness. Most side effects include breast tenderness, nausea and vomiting, and weight gain. These usually taper off after the first few months of use. Risks of birth control pills are higher is you are over 35, have diabetes, are overweight, have elevated blood pressure, or if you are a smoker.
Woman who take birth control pills that are worried about glaucoma risk should schedule an appointment with their ophthalmologist. Yearly eye screenings are key in preventing ocular diseases, such as glaucoma. Early detection may be able to slow the progression of the disease and allow you to save your vision.
By Mary Kay Love