Eye Disorders May Reveal Other Health Risks
WebMD News Archive
May 10, 2004 -- Older people with age-related macular
degeneration or cataracts may live shorter lives than those without such eye
disorders, according to new research.
The study showed that people with evidence of these eye
disorders were more likely to die of any cause within a six-and-a-half year
follow-up study than those with healthy eyes. In addition, people with advanced
age-related macular degeneration (AMD) were also more likely to die of heart
disease than others.
Researchers say the results suggest that eye disorders, such as
AMD and cataracts, may reflect other underlying health problems that cause
sufferers to have a shorter life span.
Eye Problems Linked to Poor Survival
Macular degeneration is the No. 1 cause of vision loss in the
U.S. Deposits form under the retina, and in some cases abnormal blood vessels
grow under the retina. Sufferers lose central vision, but it does not affect
In the study, which appears in the May issue of The Archives
of Ophthalmology, researchers followed a group of nearly 5,000 people aged
55 to 81 who were participants in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a
long-term study which looked at the progression of cataract and age-related
macular degeneration and also looked at the use of antioxidants. Participants
were randomly assigned to take high-dose antioxidants, zinc, antioxidants plus
zinc, or placebo.
During the six-and-a-half year follow-up period, 534 of the
The study showed that those with AMD had about a 41% higher
risk of death during the study compared with those with little or none of the
opaque deposits under the retina commonly associated with macular degeneration.
More severe degrees of AMD were associated with cardiovascular deaths.
Those with vision worse than 20/40 (an indicator of visual
impairment) in one eye and those who had cataract surgery also had an increased
risk of death, 36% and 55%, respectively.
The study also showed that patients who had been randomly
assigned to take zinc supplements, either alone or in combination with other
supplements, had about a 27% lower risk of death than those who didn't take
The researchers say that other studies have reported a
beneficial effect of zinc in improving immunity and resistance to infections in
the elderly. They say it is possible that the beneficial effects of zinc on the
decreased risk of death in this study may be related to an improved immune
response, which decreases with aging.
"The decreased survival of AREDS participants with AMD and
cataract suggests that these conditions may reflect systemic rather than only
local processes," write Tracry E. Clemons, PhD, and colleagues in the AREDS
Research Group. "The improved survival in individuals randomly assigned to
receive zinc requires further study."