Today’s Headlines: Birth Control Pills, Risk Calculators and Atrial Fibrillation

Long-term Pill use may double glaucoma risk: Women who have taken the birth control pill for three or more years may have double the risk of developing glaucoma later in life, a new study says. Glaucoma is a “disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve and is a leading cause of blindness in the United States.” While the study does not prove that birth control pills cause glaucoma, the 3,400 subject study did demonstrate a significant correlation. The reason behind this connection remains unclear, but researchers believe that higher estrogen levels or fluctuations in estrogen may help protect against the eye disease. Therefore, “when women go on the pill, their estrogen levels are consistent, and in some cases consistently low, which could cause them to develop the condition.” (CNN

Risk calculator for cholesterol appears flawed: Doubts are being raised about the accuracy of a risk calculator released alongside new statin guidelines by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology last week. Several experts have suggested that “the calculator appears to greatly overestimate risk, so much so that it could mistakenly suggest that millions more people are candidates for statin drugs.” The new statin guidelines suggest that adults aged 40-75 with a 10-year risk of a heart attack or stroke that is 7.5% or higher should take a statin. However, some experts suggest that the risk calculator overpredicts risk by 75-150%. Officials on the committee that proposed the new guidelines promised to “examine the flaws found in the calculator and determine if changes were needed.” (New York Times)

Hospitalization rates soar for irregular heartbeat, study finds: New data shows that “hospitalizations for the most common form of irregular heartbeat nearly doubled between 1998 and 2010, and are expected to continue to soar during the current decade.” Atrial fibrillation, a problem with the electrical conduction system in the heart, caused 4.7 million Americans to be hospitalized between 1998 and 2010 and hospitalizations increased 46% over that period. Researchers said cases may be rising due to an aging population, an increase in predisposing conditions such as obesity and uncontrolled high blood pressure and increased detection by doctors. Symptoms of the condition include “rapid and irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, fatigue or chest pain.” (U.S. News & World Report)