Cholesterol Lowering Drugs Might Help Prevent Glaucoma

Taking medication to provide some much-needed reliefA new study suggests cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may lower your risk for primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), the most common type of glaucoma.

For decades, physicians have prescribed statins to patients with high LDL (bad cholesterol) who are at risk for cardiovascular disease. Statins may offer some preventative benefits to vision as well. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found using statins for five or more years could lower the risk of developing primary open-angle glaucoma. Results of the study were published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

What Causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a family of diseases characterized by elevated inner eye pressure, or intraocular pressure (IOP). When pressure builds inside the eye, it can deteriorate the optic nerve and cause irreversible vision damage. The new study claims statin drugs can lower IOP, increase blood circulation to the optic nerve and help prevent POAG.

Jae Hee Kang, Sc.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a team of researchers followed more than 136,000 healthy men and women aged 40 and older. Between 2000 and 2015, the team identified 886 individuals with primary open-angle glaucoma. The results indicated using statins for five years or longer is associated with lowering risk of POAG by 21 percent, compared to not using statins.

Kang is hopeful about the prospect of broadening the use of statins beyond cardiovascular health. She says statins could also enhance neurological function in the eyes and prevent optic nerve damage. However, the results of the study do not suggest individuals with a family history of glaucoma should take statins to prevent developing POAG. Statins may have negative side effects, especially in older adults.

Glaucoma Risk Factors

Anyone can develop glaucoma, but it is important to be aware of glaucoma risk factors. Take our Glaucoma Risk Assessment to determine your glaucoma risk.

You are at elevated risk for glaucoma if you have a history of eye injury, elevated eye pressure or steroid use, or if you are:

  • 45 or older
  • African American
  • Diabetic
  • Nearsighted or farsighted
  • A relative of someone with glaucoma

Glaucoma Symptoms and Signs

The best way to prevent primary open-angle glaucoma is to schedule annual comprehensive eye exms with your ophthalmologist. Glaucoma rarely exhibits symptoms in the early stages, so your eye doctor can detect glaucoma long before you notice symptoms. The most common symptoms of advanced POAG are of peripheral vision loss and tunnel vision.

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Results of the study were published recently in JAMA Ophthalmology.

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