Glaucoma is characterized by damage to the eye’s optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. In the most common form of the condition, fluid builds up in the front of the eye, increasing pressure in the eye and leading to nerve damage. People with diabetes are at increased risk for glaucoma, which affects about 70 million people worldwide, according to the BrightFocus Foundation. Vision impairment due to glaucoma can be detrimental to quality of life and reduce your ability to do basic daily activities — and can put you at increased risk for serious injury or death from a fall or a car accident. Glaucoma is treatable, but many people experience progression of the disease — and worsening vision — even while using treatments.
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There is already evidence from past studies that one medication for type 2 diabetes — metformin — reduces the risk for glaucoma. For the latest study, researchers were interested in looking at whether the same is true for a newer group of diabetes medications — GLP-1 agonists, which include Byetta and Bydureon (exenatide), Ozempic and Rybelsus (semaglutide), and Trulicity (dulaglutide). That’s because a GLP-1 agonist was previously shown to help preserve critical cells in a mouse model of glaucoma. To find out if the same kind of benefit was seen in humans, the researchers looked at a group of people with type 2 diabetes who started taking either a GLP-1 agonist or another diabetes drug. There were 1,961 participants who started taking a GLP-1 agonist and 4,371 who started taking a different drug.
GLP-1 agonist use linked to reduced glaucoma risk
During an average follow-up period of 150 days, there were 10 new cases of glaucoma in the GLP-1 agonist group (0.5% of the group) and 58 new cases of glaucoma in the group that started on another diabetes medication (1.3% of the group), as noted in a news release on the study. After adjusting for a number of differences between the two groups, the researchers found that starting on a GLP-1 agonist reduced the risk for glaucoma by 44% compared with starting on another diabetes drug.
The researchers noted that these results by themselves aren’t enough to recommend taking a GLP-1 agonist for glaucoma prevention, but they support further studies on whether GLP-1 agonists reduce glaucoma risk. If you already have glaucoma, talk to your doctor about whether your diabetes treatment strategy may need to change — including any potential medication changes — as part of your overall discussion about treating glaucoma and taking medicines specifically to slow the disease process and help preserve your vision.
Want to learn more about GLP-1 agonists? Read “Non-insulin Injectable Diabetes Medications” and “GLP-1 Agonists: Getting to Know These Drugs Better.”