Aspirin’s heart benefits trump possible small risk of macular degeneration

Many adult Americans take aspirin every day, often to prevent a heart attack. Headlines about a study published today linking aspirin use with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may scare some aspirin users to stop, but that’s the wrong message.

In the study, aspirin’s effect on vision was small—far smaller than the lifesaving benefit it offers people with heart. “The benefits of cardioprotection are well established,” says Dr. William Christen, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “There are too many unanswered questions in this study for it to impact the use of aspirin for cardiovascular disease.”

The study’s lead scientist, Dr. Barbara Klein, agrees. “Coronary heart disease is a killer,” emphasizes Dr. Klein, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “If you are convinced that people need to be protected from heart disease with aspirin, you wouldn’t stop it because of this potential risk.”

A thief of vision

Macular degeneration occurs when something goes wrong with the macula, a small part of the eye’s light-sensing retina. The macula is responsible for sharp central vision. There are two forms. “Dry” macular degeneration is the most common. It is caused by thinning of the retina. Some people with it have no symptoms and are unaware they have the condition, others have vision loss.

In some people, dry macular degeneration progresses to “wet” macular degeneration. The name reflects the fact that abnormal blood vessels growing in the layers of cells beneath the retina leak fluid and blood, which can injure and scar the retina, causing loss of vision.

For dry macular degeneration, a cocktail of certain vitamins and nutrients can slow or even stop progression to an advanced, vision-robbing form. For the wet form, new drugs can stop or slow the growth of and leakage from abnormal blood vessels.

All eyes on Beaver Dam

As part of the ongoing Beaver Dam Eye Study, Dr. Klein and other researchers have been following nearly 5,000 adults living in the city and township of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin since 1987 to see how their eyesight changes as they age. Participants in the study were checked for signs of macular degeneration every five years. Among other questions, they were asked if they had regularly taken aspirin at least twice a week for at least three months…

Read the complete article @ Harvard Health Blog.

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