Macular Degeneration Increases Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

People who suffer from the eye disease macular degeneration are more likely to die from a heart attack or a stroke.  Based on a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, people under the age of 75 who developed early stage macular degeneration had twice the chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke within the next decade.

Why were these patients at an increased risk?  Was the risk increased because of the risks associated with certain macular degeneration treatments, particularly the drug treatments Avastin, Lucentis and Macugen?  Was the risk associated with the age of the patient rather than with the eye disease?

The Australian led study followed more than 3,000 patients older than 49.  These patients were followed between the years of 1992 and 1994 and monitored over the next 10 years with general health and eye examinations that included physical check-ups and retinal photography to detect abnormalities associated with macular degeneration.

The study clearly showed that people under the age of 75 who developed early onset macular degeneration had twice the risk of a heart attack and stroke, while those with late stage macular degeneration were five times more likely to dy of a heart attack and ten times more likely to die of a stroke.

The researchers gave no reason for the elevated risks associated with macular degeneration patients and were caution to point out the findings were based on a relatively small numbers, indicating that the results “should be interpreted cautiously.”

However the results of the study could have consequences on determining the course of treatment for those patients who suffer from macular degeneration.  With current anti-VEGF drugs used for treating the eye disease being known to elevate the risk of stroke and heart attack in some patients, eye care professionals may be leery of treating macular degeneration with Avastin, Lucentis and Macugen in high risk patients.

Doctors will have to weigh the risks associated with certain macular degeneration treatments a little more closely.

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