Statins May Help Protect Against Diabetic Retinopathy

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istock/katleho Seisa

Statin medications are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. In recent years, these cholesterol-lowering drugs have been associated with other potential benefits, including lowering the risks of chronic kidney disease and open-angle glaucoma. Now evidence from a 2019 study in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests that the drugs may also protect against diabetic retinopathy.

To investigate the association between statins and diabetic retinopathy, researchers analyzed data from 18,947 patients with type 2 diabetes who were taking statins and 18,947 patients with type 2 diabetes who were not. During the roughly seven years of follow-up, 2,004 people in the statin group (10.6 percent) and 2,269 in the non-statin group (12 percent) developed diabetic retinopathy, a statistically significant difference. People in the statin group also had a lower rate of other vision complications, including leakage of blood into the vitreous (the gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye), tractional retinal detachment, and macular edema (swelling).

The findings are of interest, in part, because statins tend to modestly increase blood sugar levels and the risk of type 2 diabetes. So, evidence that statins may protect against diabetic retinopathy is reassuring. The findings aren’t enough to suggest that doctors prescribe statins to prevent vision problems. But if you’re taking a statin to keep your cholesterol in check, you may also be getting some protection against diabetic retinopathy.