Check Up: News on aspirin, macular disease

Posted: January 29, 2013

If you're worried about the recent study linking aspirin use to an age-related disease that leads to blindness, specialists at Wills Eye Institute have some reassuring advice.

The Australian study, published last week in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that taking aspirin at least once a week more than doubled the chance of macular degeneration, including the more damaging "wet" type, among 2,389 adults followed for 15 years. But the 15-year incidence was still relatively small - about 5.8 percent of regular aspirin users compared with 2.2 percent of nonusers.

The study has prompted "a steady stream" of anxious inquiries from macular degeneration patients who also routinely use aspirin, said Carl Regillo, director of Wills' retina service.

"What I tell them is that if they are on aspirin for a good reason, the benefits probably outweigh the possible risk" of macular degeneration - a risk that is far from proven, Regillo said.

He added that patients should talk to their prescribing doctor before changing aspirin usage.

Echoing that sentiment, the study's authors and Los Angeles cardiologists who wrote an editorial concluded that the latest findings are not enough to recommend changing aspirin guidelines.

The inexpensive nonprescription pill is one of the most widely used medications in the world, useful in treating or preventing heart disease and stroke, as well as fever, pain, and inflammation.

While aspirin can sometimes cause gastrointestinal bleeding or irritation, a daily baby aspirin is recommended to prevent cardiovascular disease in people with risk factors.

Previous studies of aspirin use and macular degeneration yielded inconsistent results.

"We've always doubted that there's a connection," Regillo said, because no one can explain how aspirin's action in the body might harm the eyes.

If anything, Regillo added, aspirin might have "favorable effects" in the eye because it reduces inflammation.

- Marie McCullough

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