Older Women Need to Beware of Macular Degeneration

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

Have you reached middle age and begun to take aspirin to protect your heart health? While doing so, you may have inadvertently increased your risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin collected data on approximately 5,000 people who participated in the Beaver Dam Eye Study. These participants had eye examinations every five years during a period of two decades. They also were asked about their aspirin usage.

The researchers found that 512 participants developed early macular degeneration while 117 participants developed late macular degeneration after approximately 15 years in the study. Their analysis also found that participants who took aspirin for a decade actually just about doubled their risk for developing macular degeneration. In comparison, people who didn't take aspirin had less than 1 percent of a risk of developing this condition. Furthermore, the researchers found that participants who took aspirin had a 1.4 percent increased risk of developing late age-related macular degeneration than those who didn't take aspirin (a 0.6 percent risk). While this was not a cause-and-effect study, it did indicate that there was an association between aspirin and this eye condition.

More on Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is a common eye condition that hits people who are 50 years old and above. This condition is the leading cause for vision loss in older adults, according to the National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute. This disease, which progresses differently based on the individual, causes the gradual destruction of the macula, which is the part of the eye that helps you see objects clearly. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina. When damaged, the eye is not able to discern the fine points that normally would be picked up by the

This vision loss can make it difficult to do daily activities, including reading, printing, driving a car or doing close work. Furthermore, it may make it difficult to recognize faces. A person who has this condition can see, however, using peripheral vision.

The risk increases as you get older. Other risk factors including smoking, race (Caucasians are more likely to get this condition) and family history. The National Eye Institute recommends exercising, eating a healthy diet that includes green leafy vegetables and fish, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and avoiding smoking as ways to lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration.

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration. The first, which is the dry form, is the most common and occurs in about 90 percent of the people who have this condition. This form "happens when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye," the National Eye Institute stated. There are few symptoms in the early stages; however, yellow deposits under the retina called drusen are an early sign and can be observed by your eye care professional. Therefore, it's really important to get your eyes checked regularly before the disease progresses. In the later stages, people who have this condition experience blurred vision with objects not being as bright as they used to be.

There also is a wet form of age-related macular degeneration, which affects about 10 percent of people who have this condition. This type is more severe than the dry form's early and intermediate stages. This condition happens when abnormal blood vessels that are located behind the retina end up growing under the macula. These blood vessels often are fragile and end up leaking blood and fluid, which cause the macula to swell and become damaged. This damage also may include scarring of the retina. If detected early, vision professionals can slow down or stop the progression of this form of the disease.

So how do you know if you may be developing the wet form of age-related macular degeneration? You may find that straight lines may appear wavy. Furthermore, you may develop a blind spot, which is caused by the loss of central vision.

With all this being said, make sure you regularly see your eye doctor and talk to that doctor as well as your primary care physician if you are taking aspirin.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

MedlinePlus. (2012). Long-term aspirin use linked with vision loss: study.

National Eye Institute. (2009). Facts about age-related macular degeneration. National Institutes on Health.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.