Cataract Surgery Offers Benefits Beyond Improved Vision

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Researchers uncover a surprising link between cataracts and osteoporosis and identify important benefits of cataract surgery.

  • People with cataracts are at increased risk for osteoporosis and fractures compared to those with healthy eyes, but cataract surgery may counter this excess risk, according to a Taiwanese study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study included 116,000 older adults, half with cataracts, half without, who were followed for six years; about 40 percent of participants with cataracts had surgery to remove them.

    Compared to people without cataracts, those with untreated cataracts were twice as likely to develop osteoporosis, 30 percent more likely to have a hip fracture, and 60 percent more likely to have a vertebral or other fracture. People who had cataract surgery did not have elevated rates of osteoporosis or fractures. The visual impairment caused by cataracts may lead to osteoporosis and falls by limiting physical activity and reducing mobility and postural stability, the researchers suggested.

  • Women with cataracts who have surgery for them are at reduced risk for premature death compared to those who don’t have them removed. These findings, which were from a study from the Women’s Health Initiative, were published last year in JAMA Ophthalmology.

    Of 74,000 women with cataracts, 42,000 underwent the surgery and were followed for up to 20 years. The surgery group had a 60 percent lower all-cause mortality rate, including reduced death rates from cardiovascular, lung, neurologic, and infectious diseases as well as from cancer and accidents (such as falls).

    The researchers controlled for demographics, initial health, weight, and various other factors, but since this was an observational study, it couldn’t prove that the benefits were because of improved vision. While they attempted to control for such baseline characteristics, the researchers noted that it’s possible that women who underwent cataract surgery got better overall healthcare and had a healthier lifestyle than the nonsurgery group, which could help explain the mortality benefit.

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