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What Is Geographic Atrophy?

Geographic atrophy (GA) is a chronic eye condition in which the cells in the retina slowly break down and die. This results in poor retinal function and vision loss.1,2

GA mainly occurs in people over the age of 60 who have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). GA is also known as dry age-related macular degeneration, or dry AMD. Dry AMD accounts for roughly 85 to 90 percent of AMD cases worldwide. According to our 2020 Macular Degeneration In America Survey, 5 percent of the MacularDegeneration.net community had been diagnosed with GA.2,3

GA can affect just 1 eye or both eyes. However, if a person has GA in 1 eye, they are more likely to develop it in the other. Because it is more common as a person ages, the longer people live, the more likely they are to develop GA.1,2

Symptoms of geographic atrophy

Geographic atrophy results in blind spots in a person’s central field of vision, meaning directly in front of them. For example, a person might be reading a book and notice that certain letters in a word are missing. Or when looking directly at an object, part of the object is blurry.1

Once GA occurs, it slowly spreads to other regions of the retina and gets worse over time. While GA affects a person’s central field of vision, it usually does not affect their peripheral vision.1

The rate of progression is different for each person. Some people with GA might experience partial vision loss, while others may develop total vision loss over time.2

Risk factors for geographic atrophy

Age is the main risk factor for developing dry AMD. Smoking is the second most common risk factor. Genetics and family history also play a part.1,2

Studies have shown that GA is also more common in people of European ancestry than in people of color. Other risk factors like gender and chronic light exposure are being studied.2

Diagnosing geographic atrophy

An ophthalmologist diagnoses GA by performing a dilated eye exam. During this kind of eye exam, eye drops are used to dilate the eye. This allows the ophthalmologist to see the back of the eye, including the entire retina.1

A telltale sign of GA is a large amount of drusen, or yellow deposits, beneath the retina. To the doctor performing the eye exam, it will look as though part of the person's retina is missing its dark melanin pigment.1

Retinal imaging is another way to detect GA. Different imaging tests can be used, including:2

  • Retinal color photographs, which captures 30- to 50-degree views of the retina and optic nerve
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT), an imaging method that takes cross-section pictures of the back of the eye
  • Autofluorescence photographs, which use a fluorescent blue light to view the layers of the retina

Treatment options for geographic atrophy

Currently, 2 drugs known as complement inhibitors have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat GA:4,5

  • Syfovre™ (pegcetacoplan)
  • Izervay™ (avacincaptad pegol)

Both Syfovre and Izervay are injected directly into the eye and work to slow the progression of GA.4,5

There are other ways to help treat this type of gradual vision loss. Tools and devices can help with diminished vision due to GA. Increased lighting, magnification, and low vision devices that can help with reading are some eye care therapies that can offer support.6

Lifestyle habits may also help to slow down the progression of GA. Along with stopping smoking, doctors recommend:7

  • Taking vitamin supplements
  • Eating a nutritious diet rich in antioxidants
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Reducing alcohol
  • Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure

Current research for geographic atrophy

While there is no cure for GA, several clinical trials are in progress to study the disease in hopes of one day finding a cure. Some, like stem cell treatments to regenerate damaged cells, are showing positive results. Other gene therapies are being explored and provide hope for people living with GA.1,2

If you are interested in learning more about clinical trials for GA, talk to your doctor or search for GA trials on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

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