Association of Cataract Surgery With Mortality in Older Women: Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative

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Previous studies have suggested an association between cataract surgery and decreased risk for all-cause mortality potentially through a mechanism of improved health status and functional independence, but the association between cataract surgery and cause-specific mortality has not been previously studied and is not well understood.


To examine the association between cataract surgery and total and cause-specific mortality in older women with cataract.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This prospective cohort study included nationwide data collected from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) clinical trial and observational study linked with the Medicare claims database. Participants in the present study were 65 years or older with a diagnosis of cataract in the linked Medicare claims database. The WHI data were collected from January 1, 1993, through December 31, 2015. Data were analyzed for the present study from July 1, 2014, through September 1, 2017.


Cataract surgery as determined by Medicare claims codes.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The outcomes of interest included all-cause mortality and mortality attributed to vascular, cancer, accidental, neurologic, pulmonary, and infectious causes. Mortality rates were compared by cataract surgery status using the log-rank test and Cox proportional hazards regression models adjusting for demographics, systemic and ocular comorbidities, smoking, alcohol use, body mass index, and physical activity.


A total of 74 044 women with cataract in the WHI included 41 735 who underwent cataract surgery. Mean (SD) age was 70.5 (4.6) years; the most common ethnicity was white (64 430 [87.0%]), followed by black (5293 [7.1%]) and Hispanic (1723 [2.3%]). The mortality rate was 2.56 per 100 person-years in both groups. In covariate-adjusted Cox models, cataract surgery was associated with lower all-cause mortality (adjusted hazards ratio [AHR], 0.40; 95% CI, 0.39-0.42) as well as lower mortality specific to vascular (AHR, 0.42; 95% CI, 0.39-0.46), cancer (AHR, 0.31; 95% CI, 0.29-0.34), accidental (AHR, 0.44; 95% CI, 0.33-0.58), neurologic (AHR, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.36-0.53), pulmonary (AHR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.52-0.78), and infectious (AHR, 0.44; 95% CI, 0.36-0.54) diseases.

Conclusions and Relevance

In older women with cataract in the WHI, cataract surgery is associated with lower risk for total and cause-specific mortality, although whether this association is explained by the intervention of cataract surgery is unclear. Further study of the interplay of cataract surgery, systemic disease, and disease-related mortality would be informative for improved patient care.

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