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Aspirin Therapy Associated With Increased Risk of Macular Degeneration

December 21, 2012

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

Some studies have reported an association between aspirin consumption and a slight increase in rates of various types of late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In the study that is currently in the news, routine aspirin usage was associated with a small statistical increase in AMD. This theory is still undergoing study, as the association shown does not demonstrate cause and effect. In other words, these studies do not prove that aspirin is causing increased progression of AMD, only that people at higher risk for AMD are often taking aspirin. Aspirin is commonly prescribed for pain and heart disease, and it is used regularly by nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States.

It is always prudent to consult your physician(s) before taking supplements and either over-the-counter or prescription medications. Your physician will be able to help balance potential risks against the other potential health benefits of any activity, including taking aspirin.

People who regularly took aspirin 10 years prior to examination had a small but statistically significant increase in the risk of a subtype of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a study by University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health researchers. 

Dr. Barbara Klein and her collaborators studied nearly 5,000 people who took part in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health's Beaver Dam Eye Study. Results are being published in the December 19 Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Aspirin use in the United States is widespread, with an estimated 19.3 percent of adults reporting regular consumption, and reported use increases with age,” according to background information in the study.

Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration, a potentially blinding condition, also increases with age. The National Eye Institute, which funds the Beaver Dam Eye Study, estimates that 1.75 million Americans have AMD, including more than 15 percent of white women older than 80. But until now, studies failed to show a consistent relationship between aspirin use and AMD.

Klein, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, looked at data from eye exams performed on Beaver Dam participants every five years over a 20-year period (1988-1990 through 2008-2010). Participants were asked if they had regularly used aspirin at least twice a week for more than three months at each eye examination.

For the study, the researchers measured the incidence of different types of age-related macular degeneration (early, late, and two subtypes of late AMD—neovascular AMD and pure geographic atrophy).

There were 512 cases of early age-related macular degeneration and 117 cases of late AMD over the course of the study. The researchers found that regular aspirin use 10 years before the retinal exam was associated with late AMD (age- and sex-adjusted incidence, 1.8 percent for users vs. 1.0 percent for nonusers). They found a significant association with one subtype of late AMD, neovascular AMD (age-and sex-adjusted incidence, 1.4 percent for users compared with 0.6 percent for nonusers). There was no significant association for the other subtype or for early age-related macular degeneration.

“Our findings are consistent with a small but statistically significant association between regular aspirin use and incidence of neovascular AMD,” the authors wrote. They said that if further studies confirm the link, it will be important to develop ways to block or slow the effect, especially for people who use aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Klein's co-authors include Dr. Ronald Klein, Dr. Ronald Gangnon, Kerri Howard, Jennifer Dreyer and Kristine Lee.

 Adapted from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

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