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Aspirin and Other Anticoagulants Linked to Lower Retinopathy Risk

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Aspirin and Other Anticoagulants Linked to Lower Retinopathy Risk

Taking aspirin or another anticoagulant drug is linked to a lower risk for diabetic retinopathy (eye disease), according to a new study published in the journal BMC Ophthalmology.

Close to 150 million people worldwide are living with diabetic retinopathy, which develops when elevated blood glucose causes damage to tiny blood vessels in the eyes. While good blood glucose control is critical to preventing and slowing the development of retinopathy, there are also specific treatments to treat the disorder — with the goal of preventing vision loss. That’s why it’s important to get screened for retinopathy annually if you have diabetes, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, the CDC also estimates that only about half of people with diabetes follow this recommendation. While it was once necessary to schedule an appointment with an eye doctor to get a retinopathy exam, there are now potentially more convenient options, such as getting an exam through the MinuteClinic division of CVS, which announced that it would offer these exams in March 2022.

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For the latest study, researchers used a health insurance database to look at drug prescriptions and retinopathy outcomes in 73,964 adults with type 2 diabetes living in Taiwan. They were specifically interested in whether regularly taking an antiplatelet or anticoagulant drug — a category that includes aspirin as well as other drugs like clopidogrel, dipyridamole, ticlopidine, and warfarin — was linked to a reduced risk for retinopathy. Because people who take these drugs tend to be different in several ways from those who don’t, the researchers adjusted for differences in retinopathy outcomes based on age, sex, other health conditions, and other drugs that people took. The average age of participants who took anticoagulant drugs was 58.6, while it was 56.8 for those who didn’t take these drugs, as noted in a news release on the study.

Anticoagulant drugs linked to lower retinopathy risk

The researchers found that compared with people who didn’t take an anticoagulant drug, those who took at least one of these drugs were 22% less likely to develop non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy — a term that refers to the earlier stages of retinopathy — over time. But taking anticoagulant drugs wasn’t linked to the risk for more severe forms of diabetic retinopathy, which suggests that the benefits of these drugs may be mostly preventive when it comes to retinopathy — they’re less likely to help if you already have the condition.

Study participants with high blood pressure, diabetic kidney disease, or diabetic neuropathy were more likely to develop non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, while those with cardiovascular disease and those who took statins — a group of drugs that reduce blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels — were less likely to develop non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. It’s unlikely that having cardiovascular disease was actually beneficial in helping to prevent retinopathy — instead, it’s likely that taking statins or possibly other drug treatments for cardiovascular disease was responsible for the lower retinopathy risk seen in this group.

When it came to specific anticoagulant drugs, the researchers found that taking aspirin or dipyridamole was independently linked to a lower risk for non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. When taken in combination with aspirin, there was also a lower retinopathy risk linked to taking clopidogrel, ticlopidine, or warfarin.

The researchers concluded that while taking anticoagulant drugs was linked to a lower risk for non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, more research is needed to find out if these drugs would be beneficial for all people with diabetes — rather than just for people who already take these drugs due to another health condition. More research is also needed to find out how taking these drugs affects more advanced forms of retinopathy.

Want to learn more about keeping your eyes healthy with diabetes? Read “Diabetic Eye Exams: What to Know,” “Eating for Better Vision and Healthy Eyes,” and “Keeping Your Eyes Healthy” and watch “Diabetes and Your Eyes.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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