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Birth Control Pills May Double Risk of Glaucoma


Glaucoma isn't something most women in their childbearing years think about much. The disease, which attacks the optic nerves of the eyes and is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S., doesn't normally show up until your 60s. But new research found that women who take the pill for three years or longer have twice the risk of developing glaucoma later in life. 

The study of 3,400 women is the first to find this link, and while the cause of the association is unclear at this point, researchers speculate it has something to do with how the pill disrupts the natural balance of estrogen in your body.

More research needs to be performed, clearly, so don’t panic, says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at St. John's Health Center in California. The study also only looked at women 40 and older, and the pills these women took likely had much higher doses of estrogen than what women today take, she adds.

That said, there are things you can do.

1. Know your doctors. The number one best thing you can do for both your overall health and your eye health is to make sure you get annual check-ups with your gynecologist as well as an eye doctor, Ross says. For most women, experts recommend waiting until age 40 to start regular glaucoma exams, but if you have any risk factors Ross says it's appropriate to start much earlier. 

RELATED: The Most Common Birth Control Side Effects

2. Know your risk factors. Aging, having a family history of glaucoma, being of African American descent, and past problems with eye pressure are the biggest risk factors for glaucoma. While most of these are out of your control, Ross says that knowing your risks and telling your doctor about them can help him or her make sure you're on the right birth control for your needs. 

3. Know your options. If you're really concerned about glaucoma, there are several non-hormonal birth control options available. Ross recommends IUDs: Paragard because it has no hormones or Mirena because it is progestin-only. She also says barrier methods like condoms or diaphragms are a good choice.


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