Use of cholesterol lowering drugs may significantly cut cardiovascular risks, but its long term use can raise the risk of developing cataracts by 27 percent, researchers have found.

According to the findings of a new study, cholesterol is necessary for healthy eye cells to thrive. Wiping off excessive cholesterol from the body thus raises the risk of cataracts, developing of cloudy lenses in the eyes that often require surgery to prevent blindness.

While the researchers do not establish a cause-and-effect relationship, they found that people using cholesterol lowering drugs such as Zocor and Lipitor were 27 percent more likely to develop cataracts as compared to peers who didn’t take the medication.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers assessed medical records of people enrolled in healthcare system in San Antonio, Texas. Aged 30 to 85 years, the participants had received health care between 2003 and 2005.

In the first analysis, the researchers picked 7,000 statin users and compared them with 7,000 people who did not use statins but had similar health characteristics, like health conditions, medications and healthcare use.

During the study span, 36 percent of statin users were diagnosed with cataracts as against 34 percent nonusers.

For the second analysis, researchers looked at nearly 33,000 people with no known health condition. While 6,113 were statin users, 27,400 people did not take statins.

After making adjustments for participants’ age, sex, BMI, medications, healthcare use, vision conditions and history of alcohol, cigarette and drug abuse, the odds of statin users being diagnosed with cataracts was 34 percent as compared to about 10 percent in nonusers.

Furthermore, the risk of developing cataracts increased with the long-term use of statins, researchers found. The longer a patient took the medication, higher was the risk of developing cataract.

Although the findings establish an increased risk associated with the long-term use of statins, the drugs should not be discontinued as the basis of the study, researchers advised.

“Statins reduce the risk of heart attacks, something that is frequently lethal,” said Dr. Alfred Sommer, a professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “Cataract surgery, on the other hand, is highly effective, and has only rare complications,” he noted.

The findings of the study are published Sept. 19 in the online edition of JAMA Ophthalmology.

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