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:
According to 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.”
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 a cataract.”
Typical symptoms of cataracts include:
“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.
“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.
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.”