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Living Well with Geographic Atrophy

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FAQs About Geographic Atrophy Risk Factors

Medically Reviewed By Vicente Diaz, MD, MBA

Knowing your risk for developing geographic atrophy, an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), can help protect your vision.

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As you age, you may experience changes to the central part of the retina, called the macula, that affect your central vision.

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD): wet and dry. Geographic atrophy (GA) is the advanced form of dry AMD. It’s a progressive condition that leads to permanent vision loss.

These frequently asked questions can help you learn more about the risk of developing GA.

1. What’s the biggest risk factor for GA?

Your risk of developing geographic atrophy increases as you age. GA is considered a late or advanced form of the dry form of AMD, and age is often considered the No. 1 risk factor for GA. For many people, signs begin around age 55 or older, although they can develop earlier.

2. Does my family history affect my risk?

Family history is also a leading risk factor. A family history, as well as some genetic variants, may be associated with the progression of AMD, which leads to GA.  If you have a family history of eye disease like AMD, consider scheduling regular eye exams to monitor changes in your vision.

3. If I already have AMD, does that increase my risk of developing GA?

Because GA is the advanced form of dry AMD, you’re at greater risk for developing GA if you already have dry AMD. A 2023 study suggests that 20% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of people who have dry AMD may develop geographic atrophy. Also, your risk increases as dry AMD progresses from early to intermediate stages.

4. Do chronic conditions increase my risk for GA?

Your current health may also play a role in the likelihood that you’ll develop geographic atrophy. Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease may also increase your risk of developing geographic atrophy. A 2022 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests diabetes may increase the risk of developing dry AMD, which also raises the risk of developing GA.

5. How does my weight or diet affect my risk?

Obesity is a risk factor, and diet can also play a role in the progression of GA. If you’re concerned that your diet may be affecting your weight and risk, consider working with a registered dietitian for a personalized nutrition plan. Research from 2022 suggests a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, can reduce the risk of AMD.

6. Does a history of smoking affect my chances of developing AMD?

Smoking is a leading cause of many preventable diseases and is harmful to the eyes. Research from 2023 suggests smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing GA and a faster progression of the disease.

7. What other environmental factors can affect my risk?

The sun’s UV rays can contribute to cataracts and damage to the retina, like the damage in AMD. As you age, you tend to lose the protective melanin in your eyes, making it imperative to protect the eyes. Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV damage. This is especially important for people with light-colored eyes because that’s a risk factor for GA.

Understanding your risk can help you prepare

Knowing your risk for geographic atrophy can help you protect your vision. Seeing an ophthalmologist and undergoing regular screenings are beneficial. Also, a doctor can advise on how often you need to be screened and other helpful lifestyle considerations.

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  1. Abdin AD, et al. (2023). Prevalence of geographic atrophy in advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in daily practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10381805/#
  2. Bakri SJ, et al. (2023). Geographic atrophy: Mechanism of disease, pathophysiology, and role of the complement system. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10408405/
  3. Keenan T. (2023). Geographic atrophy in age-related macular degeneration: A tale of two stages. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666914523000386
  4. Lee J, et al. (2021). The relationship between age-related macular degeneration and cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7956087/
  5. Regillo CD, et al. (2024). Considerations for the identification and management of geographic atrophy: Recommendations from an expert panel. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10850989/
  6. Seddon JM, et al. (2023). Family history of age-related macular degeneration and genetics predict progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration adjusting for macular status, demographic, and lifestyle factors. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37437830/
  7. Seddon JM, et al. (2022). Rare dysfunctional complement factor I genetic variants and progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36909148/
  8. Yongpeng Z, et al. (2022). The association between diabetic retinopathy and the prevalence of age-related macular degeneration — the Kailuan Eye Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9339787/

Medical Reviewer: Vicente Diaz, MD, MBA
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 1
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