As the women go through menopause, many doctors prescribe hormone replacement therapy to relieve the symptoms. A new study has found a connection between women who take estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy and a reduced risk for a common form of glaucoma. This is amazing news, since glaucoma is an eye disease which causes damage to the optic nerve and can result in blindness.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, was completed by Dr. Joshua Stein, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Michigan. Dr. Stein looked at the insurance claims data for women over the age of 50 who were enrolled in a managed care plan for a minimum of four years.
These same women had to have visited an eye care specialist at least two times between the years 2001 and 2009. This lead to a total of 152,000 women. Of these 152,000 women, about 60,000 of them had at least one prescription for estrogen-only based menopausal therapy. The other women in the study took a either a combination therapy of estrogen and progesterone or a therapy of estrogen and androgen.
Between the years of 2001 and 2009, about two percent of the women developed primary open angle glaucoma, a common form of the disease. Primary open angle glaucoma develops when pressure builds up in the eye.
The study found that each month that the women used estrogen therapy, they reduced the risk of glaucoma by 0.4 percent. If they continuously used the estrogen therapy for four years, it lead to a total reduction in risk of 19 percent. The only problem with the study was that although the researchers found an association between the use of the estrogen therapy and a reduced risk for primary open angle glaucoma, they did not find a direct cause and effect link between the two. They also found no direct link between a reduced risk of the eye disease and any other menopausal hormone therapies.
Other Researcher Reactions
According to Dr. Angela Turalba, a glaucoma specialist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, “The new study results do not suggest that reducing the risk of glaucoma is reason enough to take hormone replacement therapy.” Dr. Turalba believes the next step is not for women to seek out estrogen as a way to prevent glaucoma, but instead push the necessary further research towards drug companies who manufacture estrogen therapy drugs. Dr. Turalba said, “The findings are most helpful in guiding research in drug development for hormone-based therapies to be used as neuro-protective agents.”
Estrogen therapy may not be the best choice for reducing the risk of glaucoma, and only more research will lead us to answers about estrogen. Researchers are not sure how the estrogen works. It might work by protecting certain cells in the eye or by lowering the pressure within the eye. The study also focused only on women so there is no research on the way the estrogen therapy would alter men’s risks. It could reduce the risk like it does in women or it could increase the risk; with no data there is no way to tell.
Other research has shown that hormone therapy may increase the risk of other diseases, so it may not be the perfect risk reducer. It has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. There was one follow up to the Women’s Health Initiative estrogen-only study which originally uncovered these increased risks. The 10-year follow-up found that if women had undergone a hysterectomy there was a reversal of the health risks associated with the hormone-replacement therapy.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
There are several risk factors that make you more likely to develop glaucoma. Some of them are preventable, but others are out of your control. The ones out of your control are race, age, and family history. As far as race goes, people of African heritage are four to five times more likely to develop glaucoma than other races. They also tend to get glaucoma at an earlier age than the rest of the population.
Age is a factor, as people over the age of 40 are at greater risk. People with parents or close relative who have developed glaucoma are more likely to develop it themselves. Risks that can be reduced are diabetes and eye injuries.
Other Ways to Reduce Glaucoma Risk
There are other ways to reduce your risk of glaucoma naturally without the use of hormone therapy. The two most important steps to reducing your risk of glaucoma are lowering your insulin levels and regular exercise. The reason that you should lower your insulin levels is that as your insulin level rises, it causes your blood pressure to rise. This in turn, may cause your eye pressure to increase. Another reason to control your insulin level is that diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure are all risk factors for glaucoma and are all affected by insulin levels.
Regular exercise is another way to help control your insulin levels, obesity and blood pressure. Taking measures to keep your eyes healthy through the use of safety glasses and sports goggles is another step you can take.