Possible Increased Risk of Cataracts with Elderly Use of SSRIs and SNRIs

Vancouver, B.C. – Researchers from the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, Vancouver, Canada have reported that people 65-years-old and older may be at increased risk for cataracts if they are receiving selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI).

Both SSRIs and SNRIs are classes of chemicals used as antidepressants to treat depression, personality disorders, and other issues. The authors of the study say this is the first time that SSRIs may be associated with an increased risk of cataracts. However, it is known that serotonin plays an important part in lens transparency, and therefore in the development of cataracts.
The Study

The case-control study focused on residents 65 years old and older from Quebec who had undergone coronary revascularization between 1995 and 2004. Almost 19,000 of these patients (cases) were diagnosed with cataracts. Almost 190,000 patients (controls) were not diagnosed by an ophthalmologist. Nearly six percent of the cases and four and a half percent of the controls were receiving an SSRI or an SNRI.
The SSRIs and SNRIs the patients were receiving include venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) and fluvoxamine (brand name Luvox). According to researchers, when the cases were restricted to outpatient surgical treatment, the same results were found, but paroxetine (brand name Paxil)was an independent predictor for the need for cataract surgery.
A statistically significant increase in the risk of cataracts was not found in:

• Citalopram (Celexa)
• Fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem)
• Sertraline (Zoloft)

The risk to patients seems to be confined to current users of SSRIs and SNRIs. The researchers estimate that about ten percent of Americans are currently taking an antidepressant that is an SSRI or an SNRI. Based on these estimates and the results of the study, the researchers suggest that around 22,000 cases of cataracts caused by SSRIs may be avoided each year.