Cataract removal linked to fewer hip fractures

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

There are several good reasons to have cataracts fixed. Restoring clear, colorful vision certainly tops the list. A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) adds another benefit—a lower risk of breaking a hip.

How could cataract surgery affect hip fractures? “Seeing helps you navigate a new environment and helps with balance,” lead investigator Dr. Anne L. Coleman of Brown University told the New York Times. “You really need your eyes and vision to help you stay stable.”

Coleman and her colleagues analyzed the effect of cataract surgery on the frequency of hip fracture in the following year. Among more than a million adults ages 65 and older who had cataracts:

  • about 1.3% suffered hip fractures
  • the frequency of hip fracture was 16% lower among those who had cataract surgery compared with those who didn’t have it.
  • the reduction in risk was even greater (23%) if the cataract was severe.

These are remarkable and important findings. They provide additional incentives for people with cataracts who are considering having cataract surgery.

Fixing cataracts

Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye. This transparent structure focuses images on the light-sensitive retina. Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens form abnormal clumps that gradually get larger. Eventually they distort or block the passage of light through the lens and interfere with vision. “Cataract” means “huge waterfall,” which is how some people describe their clouded sight—like trying to look through a waterfall.

Drugs, eye drops, diets, exercises, or glasses can’t reverse the problem. Surgical removal of the clouded lens is the only effective cure for cataract. For most people, the only choice is when to undergo the procedure. The JAMA study and earlier work suggests that acting before vision becomes too impaired may be best.

Once an inpatient procedure requiring up to a week of hospitalization, cataract surgery is today performed under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. It is considered one of the safest of all surgeries.

Here’s how cataract surgery is usually done: The surgeon makes a small incision in the eye. The damaged lens is removed one of two ways—surgically, in a process called extracapsular extraction, or using high-frequency sound waves. The latter procedure, called phacoemulsification, is the most common today. The surgeon inserts a needle-like probe through the incision. Sound waves are directed at the lens, breaking it apart, and the pieces are suctioned out of the eye. A new artificial lens is then placed inside the eye. (See “Cataract Surgery” below.)

Other benefits of cataract surgery

Besides the immediate benefit of improved vision on everyday activities, and the longer-term one of preventing broken hips, cataract surgery may have other, less obvious benefits. These include:

  • More independence. Most cataract sufferers are older adults for whom vision trouble threatens the prospects of living independently.
  • Better physical fitness. A person with poor vision may be afraid to go out for a walk or get other exercise. Improved vision could encourage more physical activity and all of the medical benefits that follow (such as a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease).
  • Better mental health. Loss of visual cues can contribute to confusion, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. And, the loss of independence and constriction of activities that come with failing vision may trigger depression.

In the future, it’s likely that cataract surgery will become even safer and more routine. Hopefully, we will discover ways to prevent cataracts. As the effectiveness of screening and treatment for eye disease improves, the importance of getting eye check-ups will only increase.

Cataract surgery

From The Aging Eye, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School


  1. Andy

    I totally agree with you that surgery is the one of the best way to remove cataract completely. When I had cataract in my eyes then I also take surgery operation to remove my cataract. I take fast treatment then for my cataract cause it effect on my eye vision. I don’t know why some people afraid or don’t want to take surgery for cataract treatment even it is the best and fastest way than other treatment. My friend also want to take other treatment for his cataract treatment. He told me that he read one article on eye drops for cataract treatment and he want to know Is eye drops really effective or he can use this eye drops to remove cataract or he should take cataract surgery. He read about eye drops from this site. Is this also the way to remove cataract? I will share your this article with him so that he can read about cataract treatment and decide what he want to do. Thanks for your great article.

  2. John Deno

    Very Interesting article. I just had the same procedure done! thanks for the heads up. Was this study conducted at Harvard?

  3. Rad Van

    The article is very informative, and use full for all age groups. No matter what the eye is every important organ in our body and it is our duty to keep the organ active and healthy.
    Thanks for the contributor.
    Thank You

  4. dodo

    I hope there’re some ways to prevent the risk of cataract too, such vitamins or foods. I just wonder, actually what is the causes that increase the risk. If there’re eksternal factors, at least we can reduce the probability.

  5. Samir Barai

    This is a very informative topic about cataract surgery. Thanks for posting this and let us readers be aware of it. Thanks

  6. Jenny Rushlan

    Thanks for this informational article! I am getting this done in a few months and now feel at ease after reading the in depth detail here.

  7. cosmic

    Thank you for the informative post – Non clear vision would account for many mishaps. Other research has also uncovered that the common saying ‘I fell over and broke my hip’ could actually be that the person broke their hip causing them to fall over – Calcium depletion in the aged. Cataracts were certainly my fathers cause for many falls.

  8. vagusi

    You have great insight about health, this web blog help all of us with upcoming med projects, keep posting we look forward…


  9. Sarah

    This is really interesting, I just got a cataract removed. I never thought that it would lead to fewer hip fractures!

  10. Chloe

    Thanks for sharing the specific cases of cataract surgery. I am looking for information like this before going for my surgery. It looks like it’s not too dangerous..maybe I just too nervous.


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