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The Link Between Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Cardiovascular Disease

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Several studies have found that people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are more likely to have heart disease than those without age-related macular degeneration. A U.S. Medicare study, for example, found that elderly people with age-related macular degeneration were 20% more likely to have a heart attack than their counterparts who didn't have age-related macular degeneration. And a large Australian study, reported in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, suggests that age-related macular degeneration increases the risk of dying from coronary heart disease or stroke.

The researchers used data from nearly 3,000 participants, age 49 and older, in the Blue Mountains Eye Study -- none with a history of coronary heart disease or stroke at enrollment. They found that people younger than age 75 who had early signs of age-related macular degeneration at the study's start were twice as likely to die of coronary heart disease as their counterparts who did not have early signs. However, there was no increased risk of dying of a stroke in this group.

People with late age-related macular degeneration at the beginning of the study who were under age 75 had five times the risk of dying of coronary heart disease and 10 times the risk of dying of a stroke. The link between late age-related macular degeneration and risk of death from cardiovascular disease should be interpreted cautiously, warn the researchers, because there were so few people with late age-related macular degeneration at study entry.

Surprisingly, the researchers found no increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease among people over age 75 with age-related macular degeneration. They speculate that past 75, patients died of other serious health conditions that overshadowed the connection.

Take-away message: What's behind the link between age-related macular degeneration and cardiovascular disease? Some researchers suspect that age-related macular degeneration and cardiovascular diseases may share a common genesis: for instance, atherosclerosis, inflammation, and oxidative stress (the cell damage caused by free radicals) are known to affect both conditions. Another alternative: age-related macular degeneration may simply be a disease of aging.

Posted in Vision on December 10, 2010


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