(Bloomberg) — A new study finds that older adults who use aspirin regularly for 10 years or more may have an increased risk of developing wet age-related macular degeneration, an age-related eye disorder that can lead to vision loss.
The risk of AMD is about twice as high for those who regularly took aspirin a decade before researchers detected it in an eye exam compared with those who didn’t take the medicine, according to research this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
About 19% of U.S. adults take aspirin regularly for pain, arthritis and to prevent heart attacks, the authors write. People shouldn’t stop taking the medication because its benefits are well known, says lead author Barbara Klein. Instead, more studies are needed to understand how aspirin may contribute to the eye disorder, she says.
“There are a lot of people who take aspirin now for cardio-protective reasons,” Klein, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says. “Should this influence their taking this medicine to save their life? No, don’t stop.”
AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in people older than 60, according to the National Institutes of Health. It affects the part of the eye that allows people to see fine details and can lead to blindness. Treatment can slow down vision loss but not restore it.
About 9.1 million people in the United States older than age 40 suffer from the condition, according to the Macular Degeneration Association. About 90% have the “dry” type where vision slowly becomes blurry. The rest have the “wet” type, where new blood vessels grow under the retina and leak fluid or blood. The wet type accounts for all blindness from the disease, according to MDA.
In Tuesday’s analysis, researchers used data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a long-term study of age-related eye diseases in Wisconsin that included 4,926 people who were ages 43 to 86 at the start of the trial. Patient exams were conducted every five years over two decades.
The study found that 30 of 1,462 people in the study, or 2.05%, who used aspirin for a decade prior had neovascular age-related macular degeneration, while 31 of 4,065, or 0.76%, of those who didn’t use aspirin developed the vision eye disorder. After adjusting for age and sex, the incidence of neovascular macular degeneration was 1.4% for the aspirin users and 0.6% for the non-users, the authors say.
No association was seen between aspirin use and the dry form of the eye disorder or for shorter-term use of aspirin, Klein says.
Barrett Katz, a neuro-ophthalmologist at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., who wasn’t an author of this week’s paper, says the findings show that regular aspirin use may be another small risk factor for age-related macular degeneration. Other risk factors include age, race, cigarette smoking, alcohol ingestion and genetics, he says.
More studies are needed to replicate these findings and to show what harm, if any, aspirin has on the vision of people with the disorder or if it causes age-related macular degeneration, Katz says.
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