Risk of Blinding Macular Degeneration Skyrockets
After Study Groups Take Blood Pressure Drugs
Vasodilators and beta blockers were bad news for
older people in 25-year study who developed AMD, leading cause of
blindness for seniors
May 28, 2014 – A large study of older people that
lasted 25 years found using any vasodilator, such as Apresoline and
Loniten, increased the risk of developing early-stage age-related
macular degeneration (AMD) by a staggering 72 percent. But, they also
found that taking oral beta blockers such as Tenormin and Lopressor was
associated with a 71 percent increase in the risk of neovascular AMD, a
more advanced and vision-threatening form of the disease.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and
blindness among American senior citizens who are age 65 and older,
according to the report on the study published online in
Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
AMD – the deterioration of the eye's macula, which
is responsible for the ability to see fine details clearly – affects an
estimated 11 million people in the United States. In addition to
increased age, the cause of AMD may be attributed to several risk
factors, including hereditary risk and smoking.
Some studies have also found an association between
AMD and high blood pressure, but this has been inconsistent. To help
clarify the relationship between AMD incidence and blood pressure
lowering medications, including vasodilators, researchers from the
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health conducted a
long-term population-based cohort study from 1988 to 2013. The study
included nearly 5,000 residents of Beaver Dam, Wis., who were ages 43 to
The research is part of the National Eye Institute
-funded Beaver Dam Eye Study, which has since 1987 collected information
on the prevalence and incidence of AMD, macular degeneration and
The researchers found that, after adjusting for
age, sex and other factors, using any vasodilators, which open (dilate)
the blood vessels, was associated with the 72 percent increase in
early-state AMD among the study participants.
Among people who were not taking vasodilators, an
estimated 8.2 percent developed signs of early AMD. In comparison, among
those taking a vasodilator medication, 19.1 percent developed the
The researchers also found that taking oral beta
blockers was associated with a 71 percent increase in the risk of
neovascular AMD, a more advanced and vision-threatening form of the
Among those who were not taking oral beta blockers
an estimated 0.5 percent developed signs of neovascular AMD. In
comparison among those taking oral beta blockers, 1.2 percent developed
While the study provides risk estimates of
associations between blood pressure lowering medications and AMD at
various stages, the researchers caution that their study was not able to
discern effects of the medications themselves and the conditions for
which participants were taking those medications.
"As significant as these results may be, it's
important that they be replicated first, and if possible tested in a
clinical trials setting before changing anyone's medication regimens,"
said Ronald Klein, M.D., MPH, lead researcher of the study. "Further
research is needed to determine the cause of these increased risks."
For more information about AMD and general eye
health, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology's public education
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology,
headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of
eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s — with more than 32,000 members
worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" –
ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the
ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who has the education and training to
treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye
surgery. For more information, visit
Ophthalmology, the official journal of the
American Academy of Ophthalmology, publishes original, peer-reviewed,
clinically-applicable research. Topics include the results of clinical
trials, new diagnostic and surgical techniques, treatment methods,
technology assessments, translational science reviews, and editorials.
For more information, visit
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