Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans age 65 and older and affects an estimated 11 million people in the United States. The disease deteriorates the eye's macula, which is responsible for the ability to see fine details clearly. 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 of nearly 5,000 residents of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, aged 43 to 86 years. 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 the age-related eye diseases AMD, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
The researchers found that using any vasodilator such as Apresoline and Loniten, which open (dilate) the blood vessels — was associated with a greater risk of developing early-stage AMD. 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 disease.
The researchers also found that taking oral beta blockers such as Tenormin and Lopressor was associated with an increase in the risk of neovascular AMD, a more advanced and vision-threatening form of the disease. 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 neovascular AMD.
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. They believe that further research is needed to determine the cause of the increased risks.