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Study: Aspirin use increases blindness risk among elderly

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The common, over-the-counter pain reliever aspirin has now been linked to a new risk factor for the elderly. According to researchers, if an elderly person takes aspirin as infrequently as once a month, this puts them at special risk for blindness.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The new study found a link between regular use of aspirin and age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss among people over 50. A history of heart disease or smoking are considered both risk factors for the disease.

Currently, millions of heart patients take daily low-dose aspirin on doctor's orders to ward off a second heart attack or stroke. Others who have not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease often take it as "health insurance." Low-dose aspirin has recently been found to cut the risk of dying from a range of common cancers.

Australian researchers said there was "insufficient evidence" to advise patients against taking aspirin, although some should be advised of the potential hazard if they already had AMD in one eye.

The "wet form" of macular degeneration, caused by leaking blood vessels in the eyes, leads to vision loss in the center of the eye's field of vision. The dry form is more common and less severe, although the patient still suffers visual impairment.

There is no preventative treatment for the condition, although laser surgery and drugs can limit damage caused by the disease.

The new study compared rates of wet AMD among more than 2,000 regular and non-regular users of aspirin over a period of 15 years. Regular use was defined as taking aspirin once or more per week. Among non-regular users, the rates of wet AMD rose from 0.8 percent at five years to 1.6 per cent at 10 years and 3.7 percent at 15 years.

Corresponding rates for regular aspirin users were 1.9 percent, 7 percent, and 9.3 percent.

It was discovered that aspirin users were at greater risk of the more serious type of vision loss, regardless of their heart health or smoking history.

"Currently, there is insufficient evidence to recommend changing clinical practice, except perhaps in patients with strong risk factors for neovascular AMD," lead researcher Dr. Gerald Liew, from the University of Sydney in Australia says. "In whom it may be appropriate to raise the potentially small risk of incident neovascular AMD with long-term aspirin therapy."

Researchers insist that any decision on whether to stop aspirin treatment was complex and should be done on an individual basis.

U.S experts say that more research was needed before patients could be advised to change the status quo.

"From a purely science-of-medicine perspective, the strength of the evidence is not sufficiently robust to be clinically directive," Dr. Sanjay Kaul and Dr. George Diamond from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said.
 

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