Does Aspirin Use Cause Macular Degeneration?

Does Aspirin Cause Wet AMD?

Does Aspirin Increase Wet AMD?

Scientists pouring over the data from the Beaver Dam Project found an unanticipated association between regular use of aspirin and advanced macular degeneration.  In this blog I will review the data and what it really means for aspirin users that are worried about macular degeneration.

The Beaver Dam Eye Study is a fascinating project funded by the National Eye Institute conducted on 5,000 individuals that live in, you guessed it, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.  Since 1987 thousands are examined every five years to help us understand the effects of aging on the eye.

The researchers compared those that had been regular aspirin users ten years prior to those that had not been regular aspirin users.  In the regular aspirin users, 1.76% had late stage Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) while in the non-regular users, only 1.03% had late stage AMD.  This was a small difference, but it was found to be statistically significant.  As they looked closer, they noticed that it was the wet type of AMD (neovascular AMD) that was elevated in these aspirin users rather than the dry type (geographic atrophy).  Interestingly, they did not notice a difference between those that had been regular aspirin users 5 year prior to the exam or for those that used Coumadin rather than aspirin.

The study found that there was an “association” with regular aspirin use and wet AMD.  However, it did not prove that aspirin causes wet AMD.  Patients are put on aspirin because they are otherwise sick or at risk for problems like the cardiovascular diseases (narrowing arteries, heart attacks, or stroke).  Patients with these problems are put on aspirin.  If, for example, heart disease ended up being the cause for increased AMD and patients with heart disease are all put on aspirin, then aspirin would be associated with AMD but not be the actual cause.  The way the study was designed you can’t tell if it was the aspirin or the diseases that aspirin helps treat that increased the AMD. This study will inspire more detailed future studies to determine the real cause for the small increase in wet AMD.

So what does this study mean if you have macular degeneration and are on aspirin?  Not much is my answer.  You should discuss this with your doctor who knows your specific need for aspirin.  Most of you will probably decide with your doctor that if you had a good reason to be on aspirin before the study, you still have a good reason to stay on it.  Some of you will find that you have a high risk for wet AMD and a minimal specific need for aspirin.  In this case you may receive counsel from your doctor to hold the aspirin until further studies are completed.

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