A recent study
published in the
Canadian Journal of Cardiology suggests that there may be a link between the use of certain cholesterol-reducing
drugs known as statins and an increased risk for cataracts. The researchers
say that “further assessment of this relationship is recommended,
especially because of increased statin use and the importance of acceptable
vision in old age when cardiovascular disease is common.”
This study has drawn a great deal of attention due to the prevalence of
statin use in the U.S. and the fact the cataracts can steal our sight.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
28 percent of adults ages 40 and above were taking medication to battle
high cholesterol in 2011-2012. Further, 93 percent of people using cholesterol-lowering
drugs at that time were taking statins.
If you use statins and are concerned about getting cataracts, here are
four things you should know:
1. Statin users shouldn’t be alarmed or stop taking medication.
Key-Whitman Eye Center's Faisal Haq, M.D., “At this point it isn’t entirely clear whether there is a
link between an increased risk of cataracts and statin use. If you take
statins and are concerned about the study’s findings, you shouldn’t
discontinue taking your medication without speaking with your primary
care physician (PCP) first.”
Dr. Haq, who specializes in treating patients with cataracts, suggests
that you “keep taking your statins according to your PCP’s
direction and schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an ophthalmologist
to check for cataracts and other possible vision problems.”
2. We all get cataracts eventually.
According to Dr. Haq, “People shouldn’t be afraid of getting
cataracts from statins, because
we all get cataracts as we age. A cataract is a natural physiological change in the lens of
the eye, not something growing on or in the eye. When the natural lens
of the eye is no longer completely clear and transparent it is called
Typical symptoms of cataracts include:
- Blurring of vision for distance and/or near.
- Glare symptoms, such as problems driving at night due to glare from headlights.
- Difficulty reading captions on the TV.
- Vision impairment that is no longer correctable with glasses.
“When it gets to the point where the cataract symptoms affect daily
living – you can’t see well enough to drive, take medication,
read, cook, enjoy hobbies, work, etc. – then we recommend cataract
surgery,” Dr. Haq says.
Most people won’t need cataract surgery until they get older (the
average age of cataract surgery patients is 65 to 75 years old). However,
today, it isn’t unusual for eye doctors to see younger patients
with cataracts who are in their 40s or 50s, though the exact cause for
earlier cataracts isn’t known for sure. Fortunately, most people
with cataracts can regain much clearer vision with surgery.
3. Cataract surgery is a safe, effective option for most people.
“Cataract surgery is a safe, simple, outpatient procedure, where
we remove the cataract (the cloudy natural lens) from the eye and replace
it with an artificial lens that is clear. It requires a very small incision
and the procedure is pain free and very low-risk.
With traditional cataract surgery, we use a monofocal lens implant, and
in the large percentage of cases, we can expect to achieve glasses free
vision for distance. Most patients will still require reading glasses.
However, with the newer lenses available now, such as Crystalens®
and others, we have a much higher incidence of reducing dependence on
glasses for both distance and near vision. Lens implant technology will
only continue to get better over time,” Dr. Haq says.
4. You should see your ophthalmologist for a complete eye health exam.
According to Dr. Haq, “The key thing is, if you notice changes in
your vision, a thorough vision evaluation by an ophthalmologist is the
most important step you can take to ensure long-term eye health. Your
eye doctor will look for cataracts and other causes of reduced vision such as
macular degeneration, glaucoma, dry eye syndrome and other eye diseases and conditions.
Even if you’re not having symptoms, the bottom line is that cataracts
are inevitable. It’s a good idea to have your eyes monitored for
cataracts and tracked by your eye doctor on a regular basis, whether you
take statins or not. People shouldn’t be afraid of cataracts, because
cataract surgery is relatively straightforward, it’s one of the
safest procedures eye surgeons perform and there are many excellent surgical
and lens implant options available today.”