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New Study Links Daily Aspirin Use to Increased Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

01/03/2012   05:30:00 AM

Research results published in January's Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology

SAN FRANCISCO
A large European study links daily aspirin use to increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that can damage the central vision that is essential for reading, driving, and navigating daily life. The study found that people aged 65 and older who took aspirin daily had double the risk of developing "wet" AMD, compared with those who took it less frequently. The study is published in the January issue of Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Wet AMD, an advanced form of the disease, is a major cause of blindness in older people in the United States, Europe and other regions. The damage occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow and bleed or leak fluid into the macula, the center of eye's retina. The study also found a somewhat elevated risk of early-stage AMD in daily aspirin users. No higher risk was found for advanced "dry" AMD. Although dry AMD is the most common form of the disease, only a minority of patients develop the advanced stage. In those who do, vision loss occurs gradually as the macula develops abnormal deposits called drusen and eventually becomes too thin and eroded to function.

Because aspirin can reduce pain, inflammation and blood clots, many doctors recommend it to patients with cardiovascular disease. Those with heart disease are therefore more likely than the average person to take daily aspirin. In this study, the 839 participants who reported taking aspirin every day had higher rates of cardiovascular disease, were less likely to be smokers, and were older than participants who took aspirin less often. Since cardiovascular disease itself is a risk factor for AMD, the researchers carefully analyzed whether participants' heart health had impacted the study's outcomes. But even when cardiovascular status was factored in, the results showed higher risk for wet AMD in daily aspirin users. 

The researchers say they think medical professionals should stick with their current advice on aspirin for older, cardiovascular disease patients, until other studies confirm the link between daily aspirin use and wet AMD risk.

"If future studies support our results, then recommendations on aspirin may need to be modified for patients with age-related macular degeneration," said Paulus T. V. M. de Jong, MD, PhD, of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and Academic Medicine, who led the research team. "It's possible that  increased AMD risk may outweigh aspirin's potential protective benefits for some patients, but we need to know more about the impacts of dose, length of use, and other factors before we can say for certain, or make specific recommendations."

Dr. de Jong's research was part of the European Eye Study that examined and surveyed more than 4,600 Europeans between 2000 and 2003. The study's main goals were to estimate AMD prevalence and to investigate the impacts of sun exposure and antioxidant vitamin use on disease development.

Note to media:  Contact Media Relations to request the complete research article and a related image and arrange interviews with the lead researcher or experts not involved in the study.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s — with more than 30,000 members worldwide.  Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org. The Academy's EyeSmart® public education program works to educate the public about the importance of eye health and to empower them to preserve their healthy vision, by providing the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. Visit www.geteyesmart.org to learn more.    

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