Statins and aspirin may protect against severe vision loss in elderly

Cholesterol-busting statins, the largest-selling prescription drugs in the U.S., may protect older people from blindness, a new study shows. Aspirin also appears to provide significant protection, according to the research.

Scientists at UCSF assessed the use of statins and aspirin among more than 300 elderly patients with age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a common condition among people over 70. About one in eight cases of AMD deteriorates into what is called wet AMD, the leading cause of irreversible severe vision loss in older people.

The scientists found that those patients already taking statins were half as likely as those without statins to develop the more severe wet AMD, caused by the growth of new blood vessels underneath the retina. Those already on aspirin were about 40 percent less likely to develop this new blood vessel growth, technically called choroidal neovascularization (CNV).

The research is reported in the April issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology.

"Standard treatments for wet AMD often result in stabilization of vision loss, rather than improved vision, so it's important to identify treatments that may prevent the disease," said Jacque L. Duncan, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at UCSF and senior author of the study.

Of the few earlier studies of the possible relationship between statins and either early or late AMD, three supported an association and one did not. All these studies involved relatively small numbers of people with wet AMD, Duncan said.

"This study is probably the strongest support we can get for the benefits of statins and aspirin against AMD," Duncan said. "A randomized controlled trial is unlikely to occur, because it would withhold statins and aspirin from the control group, and these drugs have been shown to save lives."

Some patients were on statins alone, some on aspirin alone, and some on both, Duncan noted. A statistical analysis found that

Contact: Wallace Ravven
University of California - San Francisco

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