Aspirin ... linked to eye disease. Photo: Bloomberg
It's used widely to prevent heart attack and stroke but new Australian research has raised concerns that aspirin could be contributing to eye disease.
Regular aspirin use was linked to a more than two-fold increase in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly, by researchers from the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research in Sydney.
The institute's Centre for Vision Research studied 2389 people over a 15-year period and discovered 63 developed neovascular, or late-stage, AMD.
The centre's director, Paul Mitchell, said 9.3 per cent of regular aspirin users in the study developed the condition after 15 years, compared with 3.7 per cent of those who did not take aspirin regularly.
This translated to a 2 1/2-fold risk for regular aspirin users.
Professor Mitchell said the study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, could not conclude aspirin was the cause of the AMD.
It would therefore be premature for clinicians to change their practice around recommending aspirin use, he said.
"But this is another possible adverse event of aspirin," Professor Mitchell said.
"Aspirin has been put forward as something that just about everyone should take.
"It's findings like this that suggest we should be cautious about going down that path."
He said three other international studies had found similar results suggesting a link between regular aspirin use and AMD.
It could be that conditions such as heart problems for which people took aspirin were associated with macular degeneration, Professor Mitchell said.
More vigorous studies were needed to test the findings further, he said.
Aspirin has been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of recurrent heart disease, including heart attack and stroke, and is one of the most widely used medications worldwide, with more than 100 billion tablets consumed each year.