Image featuring icons related to geographic atrophy

Understanding geographic atrophy

Published 28 August 2019 

Geographic atrophy (GA), is an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), affecting the retina, a part of the eye that sends information to the brain to enable sight.1 Many people with AMD do not immediately recognise the symptoms, mistaking them for normal signs of ageing, which leads to more severe vision loss.2,3

In a person with GA, visual clarity can still be good if the macula – the central area of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision – is spared. 42% of patients with GA have a visual acuity of 20/200 – the threshold for legal blindness – or worse. Healthy vision is 20/20.4

There are currently no treatments available to slow the progression of GA. Clinical trials are underway for potential GA treatments. Low vision aids like magnifiers or special eyeglasses may also be prescribed.1

Global burden

World with global burden of GA depicted

GA is responsible for 10-20% of blindness in AMD, affecting more than five million people globally.5

GA occurs in 1.3% of people between the age of 75-84, increasing to nearly 22% after 90 years of age.5

Risk factors2,5

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Age
most common in those over 70

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Obesity

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Genetics
family history of AMD

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Heart disease

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Race
more common among Caucasians

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Smoking
nearly doubles the risk

Signs and symptoms2

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Vision becomes less sharp or detailed

Washed out colour depicted over an eye

Colours seem dull or washed out

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A dark spot appears in central or peripheral (side) vision

Difficulty seeing in the dark depicted over an eye

Seeing in the dark becomes difficult

Impact of geographic atrophy

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Impaired vision can impact:6

  • The ability to carry out everyday tasks
  • The ability to work
  • The ability to lead an active social life
  • Quality of life, with increased social isolation, depression and anxiety disorders
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GA affects the ability to perform social and manual activities, such as seeing faces, driving, reading and finding street signs.2

Image of person with stress arrows above them

Additional anxiety and stress can be caused by the expectation that the vision loss associated with their condition is likely to get worse over time.2

Annual eye test

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Getting an annual eye test is the best way to detect any changes in vision. A dilated retinal examination will help to detect AMD before it progresses to GA. If you’d like more information on AMD, GA or other retinal diseases, talk to your optician or visit www.retina-international.org/.

References

  1. National Eye Institute. Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration. [Internet; cited May 2019]. Available from: https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts.
  2. Sacconi R, Corbelli E, Querques L, Bandello F, Querques G. A Review of Current and Future Management of Geographic Atrophy. Ophthalmology and Therapy. 2017; 6:69-77.
  3. NHS Choices. Macular Degeneration. [Internet; cited May 2019] Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Macular-degeneration/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
  4. Klein R, Klein BEK, Franke T. The relationship of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors to age-related maculopathy. The Beaver Dam Eye Study. Ophthalmology 1993; 100:406–14.
  5. Amdbook. Geographic Atrophy [Internet; cited May 2019]. Available from: http://www.amdbook.org/content/geographic-atrophy-0.
  6. Park SJ, Ahn S, Woo SJ, et al. Extent of Exacerbation of Chronic Health Conditions by Visual Impairment in Terms of Health-Related Quality of Life. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015; 133:1267-1275.

Tags: Science, Ophthalmology