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Cholesterol Drugs Lower Glaucoma Risk

Researchers found a 40 percent decrease in glaucoma among long-term statin users. Statins, a class of medications widely used for lowering cholesterol, may not only help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but may also help prevent the most common form of glaucoma, said Duke University Eye Centers researchers. Duke ophthalmologists Paul Lee, M.D., and David Epstein, M.D., Duke chairman of ophthalmology, collaborated with researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham on the recent study. Using patient databases at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Birmingham, they were able to conduct a matched case-control study.

"The study results indicate that the people who were on a longer duration of statins – 23 months or more – were the ones who had a clear protective association against the development of glaucoma," Lee continued. "So there appears to be a duration effect relative to the statins and glaucoma development."

Lee said that while earlier research had shown the effect of statins on the development of another common vision problem, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the genesis for the glaucoma study was actually in some of Epstein’s earlier work.
"Years ago, he thought that the mechanism of action of statins might be effective against glaucoma, from a couple of different perspectives," Lee said. "The first is that statins enhance the outflow of fluid from inside the eye. Patients with open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the glaucoma, have impaired outflow. So statins help to unclog that pathway.

"Another important mechanism is the enhancement of vascular flow, since the statins may be able to inhibit obstructions," Lee continued. "So there are a couple of good reasons to suspect that statins might actually be protective for patients against developing glaucoma, or perhaps in the future against the worsening of glaucoma if someone has already developed it."
Lee cautioned that while the study showed a clear association between statin use and development of glaucoma in a patient database, much more research is needed before prescribing statins for glaucoma prevention. Archives of Ophthalmology, June 14, 2004

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