9 March 2010

Popular antidepressants and cataracts linked, say researchers

by Kate Melville

A Canadian study has linked the diagnosis of cataracts with the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), as well as between cataracts and specific drugs within that class.

The researchers, from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and McGill University, based their study on more than 200,000 Quebec residents aged 65 and older. Published in the journal Ophthalmology, the study does not prove causation but does reveal an association between the use of SSRIs and the development of cataracts. This study is the first to establish a link between this class of drugs and cataracts in humans.

"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 Dr. Mahyar Etminan, lead author of the article. Etminan's group found patients taking SSRIs were overall 15 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cataracts or to have cataract surgery.

Interestingly, 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.

The study notes that while the results are surprising, and might inform the choices of psychiatrists when prescribing SSRIs for patients, the findings should not be cause for alarm among people taking these medications.

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Source: University of British Columbia