Long-term aspirin ‘blindness link’

Long-term aspirin ‘blindness link’

The impact of macular degeneration on vision

People who regularly take aspirin for a few years, similar to people with cardiovascular disease, usually tend to develop a kind of blindness, researchers say.

A study on 2,389 people, within the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, showed aspirin takers had twice the danger of “wet” age-related macular degeneration.

The disease damages the ‘sweet spot’ within the retina, obscuring details within the centre of a patient’s visual view.

The researchers said there has been not yet enough evidence to vary aspirin use.

Taking low doses of aspirin daily does reduce the chance of a stroke or heart attack in patients with heart problems. There are even suggestions it may prevent cancer.

One in 10 people within the study, conducted on the University of Sydney, were taking aspirin once or more every week. On average the participants were of their mid-60s.

Eye tests were performed after five, 10 and 15 years.

By the tip of the study, the researchers showed that 9.3% of patients taking aspirin developed wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) compared with 3.7% of patients who didn’t take aspirin.

Their report said: “The increased risk of [wet] AMD was detected only after 10 or 15 years, suggesting that cumulative dosing is very important.

“Given the widespread use of aspirin, any increased risk of disabling conditions would be significant and affect many of us.”

Wet AMD is because of blood vessels growing inside the wrong place. They cause swelling and bleeding which damages the retina.

The process can happen right away with vision being damaged in days. Age, smoking and a family history are the most important risk factors.

High-risk

There are already known risks of aspirin including causing internal bleeding. The research team suggest the chance of damaging eyesight “can also should be considered”.

They acknowledge that for many patients there’s “insufficient evidence” to modify how aspirin is prescribed.

However, they suggested using the drug might have to be reappraised in high-risk patients resembling people with wet AMD in a single eye already.

Prof Jie Jin Wang, a professional in vision research at Sydney University in Australia, said this was something doctors will need to seek advice from high-risk patients.

The Macular Society said: “The evidence is now accumulating concerning the association of aspirin and wet AMD, however, it’s not overwhelming at this point.

“For patients vulnerable to cardio-vascular disease, the health risks of preventing or not prescribing aspirin are much higher than those of developing wet AMD.

“Patients who’re taking aspirin because their doctor has prescribed it’s going to not stop taking it without consulting their doctor first.”

Matthew Athey, from the RNIB charity, said any concerns must be discussed with a family doctor.

“However, here’s interesting research as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading reason for sight loss within the UK, and this study could contribute to our understanding about why some people may develop ‘wet’ type macular degeneration.

“Further research is wanted to explain and investigate a few of the issues raised within the study, however this association can be valuable for doctors sooner or later when considering aspirin for his or her patients.”