Most women approaching menopause begin thinking about hormone therapy to mitigate the most common symptoms that accompany “the change,” which can range from uncomfortable hot flashes to more serious conditions like osteoporosis. When women begin to look into hormone therapy, though, questions about the treatment’s potential risks emerge, which a clinical trial identified several years ago. Those health risks include heart disease, stroke, and even breast cancer.
Our eye doctors in the Hamilton Township and Princeton, N.J. areas say you can add cataracts to that list.
A study of more than 30,000 postmenopausal women in Sweden found that using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may make it significantly more likely for women to need cataract surgery in the future, compared to women who never undergo HRT. A cataract is the thickening and clouding of the eye’s natural lens that can occur as men and women age.
There’s reason to be cautious about HRT. The essence of the study’s findings boils down to 2 important points:
1. The longer a woman used HRT, the greater her chances of developing cataracts.
2. Women who consumed more than 1 alcoholic drink per day while taking HRT had nearly double the risk of having cataracts, compared to women who didn’t drink or use HRT.
This is the first large study to reach these conclusions. Earlier studies exploring the potential link between HRT and cataracts performed in the U.S., Australia, and Europe yielded mixed results. There are some shortcomings to the Swedish study’s conclusion, though: The study didn’t identify the type of hormone replacement treatment being used (there are different types of HRT), offer details on the type of cataract the study’s subjects developed, or consider their exposure to sunlight (which is itself a risk factor for cataracts.)
Additionally, the Swedish participants nearly all had the same ethnic background, which could influence the outcome. As we mentioned in an earlier blog post about cataracts, certain ethnicities appear to have a higher risk for developing cataracts than the general population. If you have Scandinavian heritage, the findings may prove more relevant to you, but it’s hard to say because the study didn’t prove (or disprove) that the homogeneity of its participants was a factor.
In that same blog post, we outlined that there are simple things you can do to actually lower your risk of developing cataracts, such as wearing sunglasses that block UV rays and eating more foods rich in vitamin C. It’s also clear that women and men who don’t smoke are less likely to develop cataracts at a younger age. Those little changes to your habits and lifestyle can add up to healthier eyes.
Hormone replacement therapy is no longer routinely prescribed for menopausal women, as doctors learned about the potential risks associated with the treatment, but it may still be beneficial for some women. Certain types of HRT remain the most effective treatment for postmenopausal symptoms, and the decision of whether to have HRT is one you should discuss thoroughly with your doctor.