Women who have taken oral contraceptives may be twice as likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma. But whether contraceptives actually cause glaucoma remains unclear.

Researchers with the University of California, San Diego, Duke University School of Medicine and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University in Nanchang, China, gleaned three-year data from the Center for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found that women age 40 and older who had used oral contraceptives for three years or longer are twice as likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in November.

“The message is that long-term use of oral contraceptives may be considered an additional risk factor associated with increased incidence of primary open-angle glaucoma in women,” says Sherry Bass, OD, of SUNY College of Optometry.
Dr. Bass notes that the current study reflects similar results from a 2011 Nurses’ Health Study, which found a 25% higher glaucoma risk among women who used birth control pills.

However, more study is needed, “since the information is preliminary at best,” says Kathy Yang-Williams, OD, who practices in Seattle with an emphasis on glaucoma.

“This study shows an associative, but not necessarily causal, relationship between oral contraceptives and glaucoma,” she says. “These findings should not affect ODs in their practice with regards to the diagnosis of glaucoma. If a patient takes oral contraceptives, then this should be noted as part of the review of systems and this factor added to the basic risk profile.”

The study’s researchers say they hope it will serve as an impetus for further research to prove potential causative effects.