LASIK linked to depression

February 18, 2008

Patients who undergo LASIK may have an increased risk of developing depression, according to reports from the US.

Patients who undergo LASIK may have an increased risk of developing depression, according to reports from the US.

The US FDA, in response to patient complaints, plans to conduct a large, national study to examine the relationship between LASIK complications and quality of life, including psychological problems such as depression. Malvina Eydelman of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said that there is little clinical data currently available. She commented, "We also noted that quality of life issues relating to LASIK had not been evaluated consistently and there were few reports of well-designed studies."

Some ophthalmologists say that, although they do come across cases of depression, they do not think LASIK complications are the root cause. Steven C. Schallhorn, former head of the Navy Refractive Center, San Diego, US, commented, "There's no cause and effect."

Christine Sindt, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Iowa, US, has a slightly different opinion on the matter. "Depression is a problem for any patient with chronic vision problems" she remarked. However, she believes that in the case of post-LASIK patients, the depression is compounded by remorse. "It's not just that they lose vision," she said. "They paid somebody [who] took their vision away."

However, there are patients who are convinced that LASIK complications were directly responsible for their depression. Kim Hybarger, a 44-year old nurse from Cleveland, US developed bad visual distortions following her surgery, which led her to contemplate suicide on a number of occasions. "I was filled with anger," she said. "I felt so hopeless and helpless. I just wanted to die. The way I saw was so frightening."

A few studies have already been conducted looking at whether changes in vision can affect the mind. Researchers at the Emory Eye Center in Atlanta, US reviewed suicides among organ donors who had had laser eye surgery. Preliminary results suggest that the suicide rate is as much as four times higher among cornea donors who had had LASIK than those who had not. However, the data for this study was incomplete so the numbers may not be an accurate reflection.