Will Cataract Surgery Add Years to Your Life?

New study offers no proof

Will Cataract Surgery Add Years to Your Life?

It’s no surprise to hear that cataract surgery can improve your vision. Or that this common outpatient eye surgery can enhance your quality of life.

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But can cataract surgery add years to your life, as a 2018 study suggests?

“The study has a major weakness: It does not show a cause-and-effect relationship,” says ophthalmologist Richard Gans, MD.

About the study

A cataract is a clouding of your eye’s lens. This normal change typically happens slowly, as you age.

The researchers reviewed 20 years of medical records from 74,000 women aged 65 or older who were diagnosed with cataracts.

The 42,000 women who went through with cataract surgery had a significantly lower risk of death than the women who did not.

“But that does not prove that cataract surgery was the reason some women did not die,” says Dr. Gans.

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Flawed conclusions

The study has a few biases, including the sample used, he says. The 74,000 participants volunteered to take part in the Women’s Health Initiative study. “This suggests they were more likely to be health-conscious than the general public,” says Dr. Gans.

It’s also possible that the women opting for cataract surgery had greater visual needs because of a more active lifestyle. That would also make them healthier than the general population, he notes.

Even the researchers noted that it was “unclear” whether cataract surgery was the reason for the lower death rate and acknowledged a need for further study.

When to get surgery

Along with aging, cataracts can develop because of certain medications, medical conditions such as diabetes, or injury.

The symptoms include blurred or foggy vision; glare or light sensitivity, especially when driving at night; and the need for brighter light to read.

“But the mere presence of a cataract is not a reason to have surgery,” says Dr. Gans. Doctors typically recommend cataract surgery when vision loss begins to interfere with daily activities.

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For instance, when it gets more difficult to do the things that are important to you — such as reading, driving or playing golf — then you may want to consider cataract surgery.

“For those who do have surgery, about 95 percent report improvement in their vision,” says Dr. Gans.

Known benefits

Research confirms that cataract surgery offers benefits beyond better vision. For both men and women, these benefits include:

  • A lower risk of falls and fractures
  • A lower likelihood of causing car accidents
  • A better quality of life

Dr. Gans says studies also suggest that cataract surgery may improve cognitive function for some people with Alzheimer’s disease.

But living longer because of cataract surgery? “Proof of a direct link between cataract surgery and longevity just isn’t there,” he says.

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