A recent study has shown that long-term use of low-dose aspirin may contribute to a vision problem called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The 15-year study showed that about one in ten subjects regular taking low-dose aspirin developed this problem as they aged.
Age-related macular degeneration is a vision problem commonly affecting the elderly. It results in a partial or complete blindness in the center of vision. In severe cases, it makes it virtually impossible for the affected person to either read or recognize faces. There is both a “dry” and a “wet” version of AMD, and the type found linked to aspirin is wet AMD (also called neovascular AMD). This condition occurs when blood vessels cover the macula, a central part of the retina that is responsible for a significant part of the field of vision.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2013. Involved in the study were 2389 adults, all age 49 or older at the start of the study. They were then categorized as non-users, occasional users, and regular users of aspirin. There were 375 occasional users (taking aspirin less than once a week) and 257 regular users (150 mg/day).
The results after 15 years showed that about 3.7% of the non-users developed wet AMD. Comparing this to the 9.3% of regular aspirin users, it’s a significant difference. The results were also most pronounced at the 15-year mark, leading some researchers to think that it’s the aspirin use over and extended period of time that’s leading to the vision problems.
Investigators are quick to say that the research isn’t definitive, however. The tests themselves weren’t random in a controlled laboratory setting. Additional testing under other circumstances is still necessary, though this study does support similar findings by another European survey.
It’s also important to note that for many patients, the benefits of taking low-dose aspirin far outweigh the risk of wet AMD. For many people with pre-existing heart disease, aspirin is a cheap and effective method of preventing serious complications such as heart attack, stroke, and hypertension. Recent research is also suggesting that aspirin may have cancer fighting (and preventing) properties.
Headlines such as “Aspirin Triples the Chance of Blindness” are also over-sensationalized. The tripled value is from around 3% to around 9% of the subjects studied. It’s not recommended for anyone already taking aspirin under a doctor’s supervision to stop immediately. Age-related macular degeneration is also a treatable condition, especially if it is caught in time.
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