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Amblyopia and Risks for Adult Health

Adults who had amblyopia in childhood are more likely to experience hypertension, obesity, and metabolic syndrome in adulthood, as well as an increased risk of heart attack, according to a new study.

In publishing the study in eClinicalMedicine, 1 the authors stress that while they have identified a correlation, their research does not show a causal relationship between amblyopia and ill health in adulthood.

The researchers, from University College London, analysed data from more than 126,000 participants aged 40 to 69 years old from the United Kingdom Biobank cohort, who had undergone ocular examination.

Participants in the study were asked whether they were treated for amblyopia in childhood and whether they still had the condition in adulthood. They were also asked if they had a medical diagnosis of diabetes, high blood pressure, or cardio/cerebrovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke.

Their body mass index, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels were also measured, and mortality was tracked.

The researchers confirmed that from 3,238 participants who reported having a ‘lazy eye’ as a child, 82.2% had persistent reduced vision in one eye as an adult.

HIGHER INCIDENCE OF ADULT ILL HEALTH

The findings showed that participants with amblyopia as a child had 29% higher odds of developing diabetes, 25% higher odds of having hypertension, and 16% higher odds of having obesity.

They were also at increased risk of heart attack, even when other risk factors were taken into account.

Corresponding author, Professor Jugnoo Rahi (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and Great Ormond Street Hospital), said it was “rare to have a ‘marker’ in childhood that is associated with increased risk of serious disease in adult life, and also one that is measured and known for every child – because of population screening”.

“The large numbers of affected children and their families, may want to think of our findings as an extra incentive for trying to achieve healthy lifestyles from childhood.”

The team hope that their new research will highlight how child health lays the foundations for adult health.

NO CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP

First author, Dr Siegfried Wagner (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital), said: “Vision and the eyes are sentinels for overall health – whether heart disease or metabolic disfunction, they are intimately linked with other organ systems. This is one of the reasons why we screen for good vision in both eyes.

“We emphasise that our research does not show a causal relationship between amblyopia and ill health in adulthood. Our research means that the ‘average’ adult who had amblyopia as a child is more likely to develop these disorders than the ‘average’ adult who did not have amblyopia.

“The findings don’t mean that every child with amblyopia will inevitably develop cardiometabolic disorders in adult life,” Dr Wagner said.

Reference

  1. Wagner, S.K., Bountziouka, V., Rahi J.S., on behalf of the UK Biobank Eye and Vision Consortium, Associations between unilateral amblyopia in childhood and cardiometabolic disorders in adult life: a cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of the UK Biobank, eClinicalMedicine, online first, Published 7 March 2024, DOI: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2024.102493.