Regular Aspirin Use Linked to Vision Loss: Study

According to the findings of a new study, individuals who regularly use aspirin over a prolonged period of time may face an increased risk of developing a rare form of eye disease, which may cause vision loss.  

Regular aspirin use, while often taken by users to lower the risk of heart attack, may cause neovascular macular degeneration, according to an article published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association on December 19. Those who used aspirin regularly for more than a decade were at the greatest risk, the findings suggested.

The Beaver Dam Eye Study was an adult longitudinal cohort study in Wisconsin. Participants ages 43 to 86 were given baseline eye exams, then questioned regarding their aspirin use and followed-up with over the course of 20 years from 1988 to 1990. Participants received eye exams every five years to monitor the development of eye disease.

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The study revealed 512 cases of early macular degeneration and 117 cases of late macular degeneration. Participants with more than 10 years of aspirin use had a higher risk of developing the eye disease, while researchers found no significant association with aspirin use for five years.

Researchers labeled participants as regular aspirin users if they took aspirin at least twice a week for more than three months. Retinal photographs were also taken throughout the study using the Wisconsin age-related maculopathy grading system to determine the onset of the eye disease. Participants of the cohort study were also checked for other factors which can increase the progression of eye disease, such as heavy alcohol use, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Long-term aspirin use doubled participants’ risk of developing neovascular macular degeneration. While the increase in risk from taking aspirin is minor, rising from one in 200 users to one in 100 users, it is still of concern to researchers, who said it should lead to  further evaluation in patients who are considering ocular surgery.

Neovascular macular degeneration, also known as “wet” macular degeneration, is a rare form of the disease that occurs in approximately 10 percent of all cases. The disease causes blood vessels to grow under the retina and macula, often bleeding or leaking. This eventually causes slow blurring of vision, and makes it difficult for people with the disease to see fine detail or to read. It is a predominant cause of blindness in people over 50 years of age.

More than 43 million Americans, or one-fifth of the population, use aspirin every day or every other day, according to the 2005 Household Component of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS-HC) published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The survey also reveals that more than 50 percent of people who are diagnosed with heart disease take aspirin every day. Use of aspirin also increases dramatically in users older than 65 years.

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