by Anna Maltby
Gorman Studio (Christopher & Thomas) Yesterday, some interesting news came out of the American Academy of Ophthalmology's annual meeting: Women who take oral contraceptives for three or more years could potentially be twice as likely to develop glaucoma as those who take oral birth control for shorter periods of time, say researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine and Nanchang University in China. And FYI, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States -- especially when left untreated.
The researchers suspect there may be a connection between hormone levels of women who take birth control and the role estrogen plays in the development of glaucoma.
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"The exact role birth control pills may play in this connection is unclear," lead researcher Elaine Wang told SELF. "Oral contraceptives work by interfering with the natural oscillation of female hormones in our body. [One hypothesis is that] if the oscillation of natural hormones is what's important in protecting us from getting glaucoma, then birth control pills may increase our risk by throwing that oscillation off."
But don't worry yet: Since this was a cohort study and not a randomized, controlled trial, the researchers can't yet establish the much-needed cause and effect . What's more, is that your actual risk of developing glaucoma is very, very small -- less than one percent. So while the idea of "doubling your risk" sounds scary, in reality, you're still highly unlikely to develop glaucoma.
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"We want to reassure women who are currently taking oral contraceptives that our study does not prove a causative effect," Wang says.
Plus, there are a host of health benefits research has shown you might get when on birth control long term, including a reduced risk for ovarian cancer.
Still worried? For general health, it's smart to see your eye doctor every two to three years even if you don't wear glasses--he'll assess your eye health and may even notice signs of non-ocular health problems you'll want to get checked out. And if you really just want an alternative to the Pill, read this.