Prevalence of cataract causing vision problems appears high among US hispanics

September 12, 2005

CHICAGO - Prevalence of cataracts causing significant visual problems appears high among older U.S. Hispanics who also often encounter barriers to access to care, according to a study in the September issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Although cataract is the leading cause of visual impairment in the Hispanic community, there has been little research on the prevalence of cataract, cataract surgery or factors that may affect whether Hispanic individuals are able to obtain cataract surgery, according to background information in the article.

Aimee Teo Broman, M.A., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a survey of visual impairment and blindness of Hispanic individuals 40 years or older living in southern Arizona between April 1997 and September 1999. Individuals completed a questionnaire, in either English or Spanish, to determine their history of visual problems and eye care as well as their socio-economic status, medical history and preferred language, country of birth and other questions relating to adapting to U.S. culture. Participants' visual acuity was then assessed.

Of the 4,774 people who participated in the interview and examination, 2.8 percent (135) had visually significant cataract and 5.1 percent (244) had undergone bilateral cataract surgery. The researchers found two factors were important in determining whether individuals received cataract surgery: whether they spoke English and whether they had medical insurance.

"Our data suggest that even after adjusting for high rates of diabetes mellitus, U.S. Hispanic individuals are at a greater risk of having a visually impairing cataract than either African American or white individuals," the authors report. "Cataract is the leading cause of visual impairment in this population and is associated with lower levels of self-reported quality of life; however, a significant percentage of those who likely need cataract removal have never obtained surgery in the population."

"In summary, visually significant cataract appears to be high among U.S. Hispanic individuals of Mexican descent, as evidenced by rate of cataract and rate of surgery," the authors conclude. "Language and financial barriers in this population impede access to surgery. Further work to remove these barriers and provide sight restoration is warranted among Hispanic individuals living in the United States."
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(Arch Ophthalmol. 2005; 123:1231-1236. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This project was supported by a grant from the National Eye Institute, Bethesda, Md. and a Research to Prevent Blindness Challenge grant, New York, N.Y.

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

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