WEDNESDAY, Dec. 2, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Women who take low-dose aspirin to protect their heart might be helping their eyes as well.
A new study by Harvard University researchers found what they described as a modest benefit for aspirin in preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye disease that destroys sharp, central vision.
"The data indicate that long-term treatment with low-dose aspirin has no large beneficial or harmful effect on risk of AMD," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. William G. Christen, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
"But, the data could not rule out a possible modest benefit," he said.
Researchers have been looking at aspirin to see if it helps or hurts the eyes. Some believe its blood-thinning quality would be helpful in letting more blood reach the capillaries in the eyes. But others have proposed that, in a common form of AMD called wet AMD, in which blood leaks in the back of the eye and results in rapid vision loss, aspirin might increase the risk of bleeding.
For the study, reported in the December issue of Ophthalmology, Christen's group collected data on 39,421 women who took part in the Women's Health Study, which originally focused on heart disease and cancer. None of the women had AMD. They were randomly assigned to take either low-dose aspirin or a placebo.
During the next 10 years, 111 women who took aspirin developed AMD, compared with 134 women who took the placebo. That equates to an 18 percent lower risk for AMD among those who took aspirin, "but the rate difference was not statistically significant," Christen said.
Dr. Stephen G. Schwartz, an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, said there have been similar results with aspirin in other eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy.
"This also fits in with common clinical experience," he said.
However, Schwartz said he did not think that people should be taking aspirin to try to prevent AMD. The fact that aspirin had little or no effect on AMD is good news, he said.
"If you need to be on aspirin, you should take it and not worry about AMD," he said. "If you don't need to be on aspirin, you probably shouldn't take it."
Another report in Ophthalmology found that common cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins do not stop advanced AMD.
The study's lead researcher, Maureen G. Maguire, from the department of ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a prepared statement that the data "did not support a large effect for statins in decreasing advanced AMD risk in patients who already had large drusen in both eyes."
Drusen are whitish deposits, commonly found in the eyes of people over 60, that could be a sign of AMD. People who used statins were at slightly higher risk for developing advanced AMD than were non-users, she said.
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more on age-related macular degeneration.