Lengthy intake of aspirin 'increases blindness risk'

22 January 2013

People who take aspirin over a prolonged period of time are increasing their chances of going blind, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Sydney reported that there appears to be a link between the regular intake of aspirin and the development of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

This is an eye condition where, more or less, a person's central vision – akin to a bulls-eye on a dartboard – is obscured. Over time this becomes increasingly blurred.

The wet version of this condition – there is also a dry type – occurs when the cells of the macula stop functioning as they should. Aware that something is amiss, the body responds accordingly and starts growing new blood vessels.

However, these blood vessels do not grow in the correct place, resulting in welling and bleeding under the macula. This results in scarring, leading to what is effectively a blank patch in a person's central field of vision.

Working with 2,389 people, scientists were able to establish the link through experiments. This included establishing how many took aspirin and how often. Then, after five, ten and 15 years, eye tests were done.

What they discovered was the 9.3 per cent of patients who were taking aspirin developed wet AMD. In comparison, only 3.7 per cent of patients who did not take aspirin developed the condition.

Commenting on the study, the Macular Society said that the evidence pertaining to aspirin's link to wet AMD is now gathering. That said, the society remained cautious, adding that at this current point in time, more research needs to be done to confirm this in its entirety.

"For patients at risk of cardio-vascular disease, the health risks of stopping or not prescribing aspirin are much higher than those of developing wet AMD," the Macular Society expanded.

"Patients who are taking aspirin because their doctor has prescribed it should not stop taking it without consulting their doctor first."

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) also remarked on the findings of the research, describing it as interesting.

"Further research is needed to clarify and investigate some of the issues raised in the study," said Mathew Atheyeye, health information services manager at the RNIB. "However this association may be valuable for doctors in the future when considering aspirin for their patients."

Wet AMD is not as common as dry AMD. While the wet condition is quicker, the dry version develops over an extended period of time, and doesn't lead to permanent blindness.

Healthcare professionals and experts are still unsure about what exactly causes AMD, which is a painless condition. However, they believe that getting older, smoking and having a family history of AMD increases a person's risk of developing it.

There is still no treatment for it, so patients suffering from AMD are assisted in how best to make use of their remaining vision.

All that said, according to the NHS, people whose diet is made up of a high concentration of leafy green vegetables can slow down the progression of dry AMD, while wet AMD can be treated with medication known as ranibizumab.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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