Diabetes Meds May Protect Against Glaucoma, Study Shows

side view asian having an eye exam at ophthalmologist's office

Scientists are researching new ways to prevent and treat glaucoma, a family of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve.

Positive results in a recent study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology link a popular class of diabetes medications with glaucoma prevention.

The medications, called GLP-1R agonists (Trulicity and Rybelsus), may also protect against glaucoma in diabetic patients, according to the study.

The results were found by researchers in the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, according to a Medical XPress article. The study findings suggest that GLP-1 receptor agonists may decrease a diabetic patient’s risk of developing glaucoma by half.

Diabetes and Glaucoma

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, including 12 million seniors. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma.

In the study, researchers looked at retrospective data of 1,961 diabetic patients who were new users of this class of drugs and matched them to 4,371 unexposed control subjects, according to a Medical Xpress article. After 150 days on average, 10 patients in the medicated group were newly diagnosed with glaucoma (0.5 percent) compared to 58 patients (1.3 percent) in the control group.

A Penn Medicine study from 2020 supports the findings, which found that GLP-1R agonists reduced neuroinflammation and prevented retinal ganglion cell death in mice.

“It was very encouraging to see that a popular diabetes medication could significantly reduce the risk of developing glaucoma, and our study suggests that these medications warrant further study in this patient population,” said Qi N. Cui, MD, Ph.D., with Brian VanderBeek, MD, MPH, both assistant professors of Ophthalmology at Penn.

Notably, this class of drugs also has shown similarly protective effects against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in animal models. Currently, clinical trials are underway to test the medications against neurodegenerative diseases, conditions in which cells of the human brain and spinal cord are lost.

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma affects 3 million Americans and is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.

In addition to diabetes, risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Age 45 or older
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • History of injury to the eye
  • African American
  • History of steroid use, either in the eye (drops) or systemically (orally or injected)
  • Nearsighted (myopic)
  • Farsighted (hyperopic)
  • History of elevated intraocular pressure

Visit an Ophthalmologist

There is no cure for glaucoma. Early detection is of primary importance because there are usually no symptoms until permanent vision loss has occurred.

You should schedule a comprehensive eye exam and let your ophthalmologist know if you are at risk for glaucoma. Your doctor will perform several tests to diagnose glaucoma.

Doctors are continually working to discover new treatments for glaucoma. The objective of treatment is to reduce intraocular pressure and slow down the effects of glaucoma. It is important to have regular checkups and take prescribed medication as directed.

Do you need an eye doctor who is also a glaucoma specialist? Use our Find a Physician locator tool.

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