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Cataract Surgery Tied to Lower Death Risk for Patients With Vision Loss

FRIDAY Sept. 6, 2013 — Beside enjoying better eyesight, people who undergo cataract surgery may see another advantage: Those with cataract-related vision loss who have surgery to improve their sight have a lower risk of death than those who don’t, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at 354 people, 49 and older, in Australia with cataract-related vision loss who underwent an initial assessment between 1992 and 2007 and had follow-up visits five and 10 years after the first exam.

Those who’d had cataract surgery had a 40 percent lower long-term risk of death than those who did not have surgery, according to the study published in the September issue of the journal Ophthalmology.

Previous studies have suggested that older people with cataract-related vision loss had a higher risk of death than people the same age with normal vision, and that cataract surgery might reduce this risk.

“Our finding complements the previously documented associations between visual impairment and increased mortality among older persons,” study co-leader Jie Jin Wang, of the Westmead Millennium Institute, said in a journal news release. “It suggests to ophthalmologists that correcting cataract patients’ visual impairment in their daily practice results in improved outcomes beyond that of the eye and vision, and has important impacts on general health.”

The reasons why cataract surgery may reduce death risk aren’t clear, but may be due to factors such as better physical and emotional well-being, an improved ability to comply with prescription medications and greater confidence associated with independent living.

While the study found an association between having cataract surgery and lower death risk for those with cataract-related vision loss, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Wang noted that some people may have had other health problems that prevented them from having cataract surgery and these other health problems could explain why people who did not have cataract surgery had a higher death risk.

Cataract is a leading cause of visual loss and affects more than half of Americans by the time they are 80 years old, according to the news release.