Fact: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people aged 55+, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Many older people take a small dose of aspirin daily as a preventative measure against blood clots, which are known to be a potential cause of strokes and heart attacks. A number of recent studies have shown that taking aspirin regularly could increase the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by 2.46 times. Unfortunately people taking aspirin may now have to weigh up the risk of heart attack against the unpleasant likelihood that by taking aspirin they are increasing their risk of age-related macular degeneration. Let's look at the facts:

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
AMD is a progressive eye condition that may affect as many as 15 million Americans. It causes gradual vision loss which eventually becomes severe, robbing the sufferer of the main center of vision. This disease attacks the macula of the eye, which is right at the center and is responsible for the sharpest vision. Losing this part of acute vision affects driving, watching TV, reading, identifying people and navigating hazards such as steps safely. AMD does not cause complete blindness. Although the outer field of sight remains sharp, the central core vision is dim and hazy. Unfortunately there is currently no cure.

There are two types of AMD: a wet form and a rarer, dry form. In dry AMD, the cells of the macula become damaged resulting in a gradual decline in vision. In wet AMD, although the result is the same, the cause is different. In this instance, new blood vessels grow in the eye and the blood vessels leak into the macula, distorting the vision. Often the more serious wet AMD develops after dry AMD.

Correlation Between Aspirin and AMD
A study carried out by the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne followed the test group of 2,389 individuals aged 49 and above. The participants had no signs of AMD at the start of the study. Four assessments were made during the 15-year study period and the participants completed questionnaires about their aspirin use.

The researchers found that 257 participants (10.8%) regularly used aspirin and of these, 63 people developed wet AMD during the study period. Overall, 9.3% of the whole study group developed wet AMD and took aspirin, compared to just 3.7% of the group who developed wet AMD and did not regularly take aspirin. This suggested that taking aspirin increased the risk by 2.46 times, even after smoking and heart disease were taken into account. The researchers also found that the association was dose-dependent i.e. the more aspirin a person took, the higher the risk of developing AMD.

The results supported an earlier study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but researchers say that the evidence is not strong enough to suggest people stop taking aspirin altogether. However, those who smoke and are at increased risk of developing AMD may want to discuss the risk with their doctor.