Can Lowering Cholesterol Reduce Glaucoma Risk?

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Another reason to lower your blood cholesterol if it’s elevated: Doing so may reduce your risk of the most common type of glaucoma (open-angle), suggests an observational study in JAMA Ophthalmology.

The second leading treatable cause of blindness in the United States, glaucoma is a condition in which deterioration of the optic nerve leads to progressive loss of field of vision. Open-angle glaucoma is responsible for about 90 percent of glaucoma cases and is equally common in men and women.

Researchers analyzed data from 137,000 health care professionals who were followed for about 15 years and found that those who had been diagnosed with high cholesterol had a 17 percent increased risk of developing glaucoma. Every 20 mg/dL increase in total cholesterol was associated with a 7 percent increased risk. In contrast, statin use was associated with decreased glaucoma risk, notably in people ages 65 and older and when taken for at least five years. Previous research looking at the effect of statin use on glaucoma risk has had inconsistent results.

Open-angle glaucoma progresses slowly and produces no obvious symptoms until its late stages. That’s why periodic visits to an eye-care specialist are crucial to detect conditions early enough to allow for effective treatment. Regular eye checkups are essential if you are over age 65; advancing age is associated with the development of many serious conditions, including glaucoma. Fortunately, open-angle glaucoma can often be treated safely and effectively with medication or surgery. However, lifelong use of medication is almost always necessary.

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