Prevalence of cataracts expected to increase substantially in coming decades

April 12, 2004

CHICAGO - The number of persons in the United States affected by cataracts is estimated to rise to 30.1 million people in the next 20 years, an increase of 50 percent, according to an article in the April issue of The Archives of Ophthalmology, a theme issue on blindness, and one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to information in the article, cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world today and is also the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, responsible for about 60 percent of all Medicare costs related to vision. A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye becomes clouded or opaque, resulting in poor vision or vision loss. Cataract is more common in older people. The effect of age-related cataract is expected to increase as the U.S. population continues to age, the article states. However, few precise estimates have been made of the prevalence of cataract in the United States on a national basis.

Nathan Congdon, M.D., M.P.H., of the Wilmer Eye Institute at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, and The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, and colleagues determined the prevalence of cataract in men and women over age 40 in the United States based on large, population-based studies. Prevalence rates were applied to 2000 U.S. Census data and projected population figures for 2020 to obtain overall estimates.

The researchers estimated that 20.5 million (17.2 percent) of Americans older than 40 years have cataract in either eye. Women are almost 40 percent more likely to develop cataract than men. The total number of persons who have cataract is estimated to rise to 30.1 million by 2020, the researchers write.

"Our estimates indicate that cataract prevalence will increase dramatically in the coming decades," write the researchers. "The large increase in cataract surgical procedures predicted for the U.S. population as a whole is also of significant health policy importance. Treatment for cataract already accounts for some 60 percent of vision-related Medicare expenditures. Further growth in this area will have a substantial effect on health care spending and, potentially, the fiscal stability of the Medicare system."
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(Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122:487-494. Available post-embargo at archophthalmol.com)
Editor's Note: The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group is an initiative sponsored by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Md.) with additional funding from Prevent Blindness America (Schaumburg, Ill.) that seeks to estimate the prevalence rates for major eye diseases.

To contact Nathan Congdon, M.D., M.P.H., call John Lazarou at 410-502-8902

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org .

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