Although currently touted as a “miracle drug,” particularly for its heart protective qualities, new studies show that prolonged use of aspirin may poise a slight risk for developing age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness among the elderly.
The report, published Jan. 21 in the online edition of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, collected data on more than 2,300 people. Almost 11% of patients used aspirin regularly ( once or more a week). As part of the study, the participants had four eye exams over 15 years. After 15 years, about 25% of the aspirin users developed what is called neovascular age-related macular degeneration. The cumulative rate was about 9% among aspirin users compared to less than 4% among non-aspirin users.
However, "People taking aspirin for heart and stroke prevention benefits should not be alarmed, nor should they stop their aspirin regimens without first consulting their doctors,” stated study leader Jie Jin Wang, a senior research fellow at the Center for Vision Research at the University of Sydney in Austrailia Wang said.
She also noted that "the increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) was only detected after 10 or 15 years, suggesting cumulative dosage of aspirin may be important," Wang said. "At present,, there is insufficient evidence to recommend changing clinical practice, except perhaps in cases of patients with strong risk factors for age-related macular degeneration, such as existing age-related macular degeneration in one eye," she said.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles agrees.
"Randomized controlled trials of aspirin use with follow-up as long as 10 years have not demonstrated any increase in the risk of age-related macular degeneration," he said. “For most patients, the cardiovascular benefits of regular low-dose aspirin use outweigh the potential risks. Individuals prescribed aspirin for high-risk primary prevention or secondary cardiovascular prevention should not be concerned or discontinue this beneficial therapy."
In addition, Dr. Sanjay Kaul, director of the Vascular Physiology and Thrombosis Research Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, emphasized that the evidence is insufficient to know if aspirin causes age-related macular degeneration.
Note: Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans ages 60 and older by gradually destroying a person’s sharp, central vision. It affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows people to see fine detail needed to do daily tasks such as reading and driving, as well as being able to read or recognize people’s faces. It is estimated than nearly 2 million Americans now suffer from this condition.
For more information regarding AMD contact the American Macular Degeneration Foundation at P.O. Box 515, Northampton, MA 01061-0515 1-888 622-8525.
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