SSRI, SNRI Use Linked to Increased Risk of Cataracts in Elderly

Vancouver, British Columbia – A recent study has established a potential link between the use of certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and an increased risk of cataracts among people over the age of 65. The study was conducted by Mahyar Etminan at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia.

SSRIs and SNRIs are antidepressant drugs. Currently, approximately 10% of the American population takes SSRIs or SNRIs to treat depression and various other psychological conditions. Previous research has indicated that serotonin impacts lens transparency and the development of cataracts. However, this is the first study to document an association between SSRI use and an increased risk of cataracts.

Researchers evaluated a group of patients living in Quebec, Canada who had undergone coronary revascularization between 1995 and 2004. The patients were all over the age of 65. Of the patients involved in the study, 18,784 had been diagnosed with cataracts, while 187,840 were placed in a non-cataract diagnosis control group. Approximately 5.7% of the case study group received an SSRI or the SNRI venlafaxine, while 4.4% of the control group had taken these medications.

The current study demonstrated a 15% increase in the adjusted relative rate of developing cataracts for current users of SSRIs and SNRIs. However, past users of these drugs did not seem to show a similar elevated risk. Interestingly, the increase in the rate of cataract development was strongest with the drugs fluvoxamine and venlafaxine. SSRIs such as citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline did not exhibit the same tendencies.

The researchers cited a large sample size, access to detailed prescription drug data, and the ability to assess individual SSRIs as strengths of the study. They also acknowledged an inability to adjust for several potential cataract risk factors as a limitation. Furthermore, the patients in the control group received a relatively short follow-up; therefore, it is possible that some of them may have had undiagnosed cataracts.

While the information from this study is certainly significant and may potentially further our understanding of how SSRIs and SNRIs relate to the development of cataracts, researchers have asserted that additional studies are necessary to conclusively confirm this potential link.