Glaucoma vs. Birth Control

In a recent study*, researchers found that women who take birth control bills were at a higher risk of developing glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness. Here is a Q & A to help you understand more about the possible association and how you or someone you love can protect their vision.

Q: Can taking birth control pills cause Glaucoma?
A: In a recent study using a health survey of 3,406 women over age 40, women who had taken birth control pills for more than 3 years were twice as likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma. The data showed that 5% of women with a history of 3 or more years of birth contol pill use developed glaucoma vs. 2.5% risk of glaucoma in the general population).

Q: What is Glaucoma?
A: Glaucoma is a complicated disease which damages the optic nerve and leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss.

Q: How can taking birth control pills affect me?
A: We have cells in our optic nerves which contain estrogen receptors. Studies show that these receptors help to protect our eyes from age-related decline. The pills may interfere with this process because they depress peak estrogen levels midway through a woman’s cycle. However, the correlation found in this study does not prove that taking birth control pills caused more glaucoma in the study participants. A different study of more than 75,000 women over age 40 from 1980 to 2006, found a 25% increase in risk of glaucoma for women who took birth control pills for more than 5 years (in contrast to the 100% increase in risk found in this more recent study).

Q: Am I at risk?
A: Researchers are not suggesting that women discontinue use of birth control pills based on this study, but they should keep tabs on their long-term eye health. While anyone can develop glaucoma, people who have the following risk factors should have regular glaucoma screening exams: over 45 years of age, family history of the disease, black racial ancestry, diabetes, and regular or chronic use of cortisone (steroids). Women over age 40 who have taken oral contraceptives for three or more years should consider having a glaucoma screening as well.

All of our doctors at Milwaukee Eye Care are excited and qualified to care for and manage your eye concerns. Call our office today at 414-271-2020 to schedule your appointment.

*Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco, Duke University and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University presenting these findings at the American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting on Sunday, November 17th, 2013. Their study if the first to report this increased risk.

Written by Shawnté, Surgical Coordinator/Ophthalmic Technician at Milwaukee Eye Care Asssociates.