Macular Degeneration Research

Nearly 20 Million American Adults Have Age-Related Macular Degeneration, New Data Shows

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Optometrist giving eye exam to senior patient.

Nearly 20 million adults in the U.S. have some form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), almost double the previous estimate of 11 million people, according to a new report.  

In the first study of AMD prevalence in the U.S. in over a decade, researchers found that around 18 million people aged 40 and older were living with early-stage AMD in 2019, and 1.49 million people had late-stage AMD.  

Much of this uptick can be attributed to better detection of early-stage AMD using the current clinical definition based on the size of drusen deposits that accumulate under the retina or abnormality in the retinal pigment epithelium. Improved retinal imaging for clinical evaluation have also helped detect AMD in earlier stages, explained Preeti Subramanian, PhD, director of vision science programs at BrightFocus.

Enhanced sources of data collection also contributed to the study’s larger number of estimated cases. This study looked at updated U.S. population demographics and newer population-based study data than earlier studies, Dr. Subramanian said.  

The findings were published in JAMA Ophthalmology in November 2022. 

The researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vision and Eye Health Surveillance System (VEHSS) to estimate evaluated AMD prevalence nationally and by state and county. This database combines multiple sources of data, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), diagnosed AMD observed in private insurance and Medicare fee-for-service data, and self-reported estimates of AMD diagnosis from NHANES and the National Health Interview Survey. 

AMD is an irreversible destruction of the central area of the retina, called the macula, leading to loss of the sharp, fine detail, “straight-ahead” vision required for reading, driving, recognizing faces, and seeing the world in color, for example. There are two types of AMD: dry, the most common type, and wet, which is more advanced. By 2040, the number of people living with macular degeneration is expected to reach 288 million worldwide. Geographic atrophy, an advanced and severe form of dry AMD, can lead to permanent vision loss. 

“Early detection is critical to slowing the progression of AMD and protecting vision,” Dr. Subramanian said. “An eye doctor may be able to detect early signs of AMD before symptoms appear, so it is critical to have regular, dilated eye examinations to detect these signs as soon as possible.” 

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60, and advanced AMD is a leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world. Half of those affected by AMD may not even know it because there are often no noticeable symptoms in the early stages.  

Age is the most prominent risk factor for AMD; other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, and having a family history of AMD.  

Macular Degeneration Research, a BrightFocus Foundation program, has invested more than $46 million in breakthrough research to find a cure. Ongoing research is exploring environmental, genetic, and dietary factors that may contribute to macular degeneration.

 

About BrightFocus Foundation 

BrightFocus Foundation is a premier nonprofit funder of research to defeat Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Through its flagship research programs—Alzheimer’s Disease Research, National Glaucoma Research, and Macular Degeneration Research—the Foundation is currently supporting a $75 million portfolio of 287 scientific projects. BrightFocus has awarded nearly $275 million in groundbreaking medical research funding since inception and shares the latest research findings, expert information, and English/Spanish disease resources to empower the millions impacted by these devastating diseases. Join our community at brightfocus.org

The information provided in this section is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation, should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we make efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.  

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information. 

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