Monday, November 26, 2012

Daily Aspirin: Can it make You Go Blind ?

A major European study found that daily aspirin taking among older people doubles the risk of an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a debilitating eye disease that is a leading cause of blindness. The link was strongest for the so-called ''wet'' form of AMD, and was less pronounced for the common, less serious ''dry'' AMD variety, according to a study published in the Journal  of Ophthalmology.

Although the scientists stress that more research could be needed, led researcher Dr Paulus de Jong said the findings are a cause for concern for millions of seniors who routinely take over-the-counter aspirin for pain, inflammation, blood-clot management and to reduce their risk of heart disease or other health conditions. Experts say these findings throw cold water on the idea that even healthy individuals should take a daily aspirin to boost their health and longevity.

''If you look at the big picture, you really have to balance the risks and benefits of aspirin,'' notes Stephanie Haridopolos M.D., a board-certified family practitioner in Melbourne, Florida. ''Should everyone be taking an aspirin for prevention of heart disease and cancer or not? I say 'No,' you really have to talk to your doctor and discuss the risks and benefits to see what's right for you. If you have Wet AMD or are at risk for it, you should probably not take daily aspirin.''

She explains, ''I looked at the studies at Wet AMD, and aspirin is a risk for bleeding into the retina and causing loss of sight fairly quickly.''  She continues, ''So my patients with wet AMD aren't allowed to be on aspirin or any other blood-thinning anti-coagulants. But for patients with heart disease, aspirin can be beneficial, but I wonder how many doctors have kept up with these latest findings. She added, ''Dry AMD accounts for about 90% of cases, so the Wet form is rarer. It's these 10% of cases that have the greatest risk.''

To determine whether aspirin can promote AMD, Dr de Jong and his colleagues tracked the health of nearly 4,700 European and Norwegian men and women over ago 65. The results showed that seniors who took an aspirin every day were twice as likely to suffer late-stage Wet AMD, and to a lesser degree, the onset of early Dry AMD, regardless of their age, history of heart disease, and other factors that increase the predisposition to AMD. ''The findings show that seniors who have early or late AMD should not take aspirin,''  said Dr de Jong, an emeritus professor of ophthalmic epidemiology at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam.

The Way I See It....the problem is many seniors may have a hard time sorting out the details of studies like Dr de Jong's and reconciling them with other widely reported research findings that have linked aspirin to lower heart disease and cancer risks. That's why it's so important for patients to talk with their doctors before they start taking aspirin. They might even want to inform their doctor of this latest research to see if you are both on the same page.

A consultation can determine if aspirin is the best option or whether other prevention strategies -- such as lowering cholesterol (without using dangerous statins), blood pressure and improving diet and exercise habits -- make more sense and pose lower risks.

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