Hormone Use Lowers Risk of Macular Degeneration in Postmenopausal Women

Women who take postmenopausal hormones appear to have a lower risk of developing advanced stages of macular degeneration.  Researchers at the Harvard Medical School have reported that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by almost 50 percent, especially if the woman had taken oral contraceptives in the past.

The report showing the lower risk of contracting the eye disease was reported in the April 2008 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among older adults.  This eye disease is reported to affect an estimated 1.75 to 10 million people in the United States alone.  The report showing that women who had taken hormone replacement theory may be at a lower risk of developing advanced macular degeneration suggested estrogen may play a role in the development of this eye disease.

Diane Feskanich, SC.D, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston and colleagues assessed estrogen-related factors such as postmenopausal use, past use of oral contraceptives, ages at first period and menopause and childbirth history in 74,9996 post-menopausal women in the Nurse’s Health Study.  Between 1980 and 2002, 554 of the women had developed early stage macular degeneration and 334 had developed neovascular macular degeneration.

“Current postmenopausal hormone users had a notable 48 percent lower risk of neovascular AMD compared with those who had never used postmenopausal hormones, although risk did not decline linearly with longer durations of use,” the authors write. “Risk was lowest for postmenopausal hormone users who had used oral contraceptives in the past.”

In contrast, the risk of developing early stage macular degeneration was 34 percent higher in current postmenopausal  hormone users and oral contraceptive was not associated wiht early stage macular degeneration risk.  “The higher risk of early age-related macular degeneration among postmenopausal hormone users was unexpected and in apparent conflict with the observed inverse association for neovascular age-related macular degeneration,” the authors write. Women who had given birth had a 26 percent lower risk of early macular degeneration. (Source: Archives of Ophthalmology. 2008;126[4]:519-524.)

The risks associated with HRT have been well document and researched in the last several years.  These include increased risk of both heart disease and breast cancer.  Women who are in a higher risk category (ie family history of heart disease, breast cancer and macular degeneration) should discuss treatment options with their physicians and determine if HRT treatment may be of use to lower the risks associated with macular degeneration.