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Statins Fight Vision Loss

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs May Prevent Macular Degeneration

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on April 15, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

April 15, 2004 -- 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.

It's a bit of good news for a puzzling problem, as age-related macular degeneration -- the leading cause of blindness in the elderly -- is not well understood, writes researcher Hilary L. Wilson, MD, professor of ophthalmology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco. Her study appears in this month's American Journal of Ophthalmology.

Some markers of heart disease -- such as the artery damage and plaque build-up of atherosclerosis -- have been linked with macular degeneration. Smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels have also been linked as risk factors.

Statins are a class of drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol, and have shown to be powerful in reversing heart disease and reducing death rates, writes Wilson.

Some preliminary evidence shows that, because age-related macular degeneration seems to be related to blood vessel changes, statins might affect onset of blindness.

Wilson and her colleagues reviewed medical records on 326 patients with age-related macular degeneration, finding that:

  • Patients taking statins were 49% less likely to develop the more severe wet form of macular degeneration. It is caused by growth of new blood vessels underneath the retina that disrupt vision.
  • Patients taking aspirin were 37% less likely to develop this new blood vessel growth.

These findings help confirm other observations of patients taking statins -- as well as the theory that aspirin may keep macular degeneration from worsening, she writes.

Wilson speculates that statins and aspirin may protect against age-related macular degeneration because they reduce inflammation which causes artery damage.

SOURCE: Wilson, H. American Journal of Ophthalmology, April 2004; pp 615-624.