Two commonly prescribed antidepressants — fluvoxamine (Luvox) and venlafaxine (Effexor) — are correlated with a significantly higher risk for developing cataracts.
Cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens that usually occurs in older people, are routinely treated through surgery.
Researchers examined a database of more than 200,000 Quebec residents aged 65 and older to find the relationship.
The study showed statistical relationships between a diagnosis of cataracts or cataract surgery and the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The researchers also found a correlational relationship between cataracts and specific drugs within that class.
The study does not prove causation but only reveals an association between the use of SSRIs and the development of cataracts. The study could not account for the possibility of smoking — which is a risk factor for cataracts — and additional population-based studies are needed to confirm these findings, the researchers say.
This study of statistical relationships is the first to establish a link between this class of drugs and cataracts in humans. Previous studies in animal models had demonstrated that SSRIs could increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
“When you look at the trade-offs of these drugs, the benefits of treating depression — which can be life-threatening — still outweigh the risk of developing cataracts, which are treatable and relatively benign,” says Mahyar Etminan, lead author of the article and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.
Researchers found patients taking SSRIs were overall 15 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cataracts or to have cataract surgery.
The degree of risk among specific and different types of SSRIs varied considerably. Taking fluvoxamine (Luvox) led to a 51 percent higher chance of having cataract surgery, and venlafaxine (Effexor) carried a 34 percent higher risk.
No connection could be made between fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and sertraline (Zoloft) and having cataract surgery.
Co-author Dr. Frederick S. Mikelberg, professor and head of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UBC and head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Vancouver General Hospital, notes that the average time to develop cataracts while taking SSRIs was almost two years. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and McGill University.
“While these results are surprising, and might inform the choices of psychiatrists when prescribing SSRIs for their patients, they should not be cause for alarm among people taking these medications,” Mikelberg says.
SSRIs, the third most prescribed class of drugs in the world, block the uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin by neurons in the brain, thereby stimulating more impulses between neurons. More than 1.5 million people undergo surgery for the condition every year in North America.
The study was published online March 8 in the journal Ophthalmology.
Source: University of British Columbia.