A pack of cigarettes, a weight scale, a sun, and a heart are connected to and surrounded by 4 pairs of worried-looking eyes.

Macular Degeneration - Why Me?

When I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) at the age of 66, I was not too surprised. After all, my mom and my younger sister both had wet macular degeneration. My oldest child was also diagnosed with early macular degeneration at the age of 51. His was caught very early since he also has glaucoma and goes for frequent checkups.

Since so many in my family have AMD, I began looking at what we had in common that might contribute to the disease.

Family history

It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that we were all related. If a parent or a sibling has AMD, there is a significant increase in risk for other family members.1 There is nothing we can do about our genetics, but I can make sure I educate other family members about the risk factors. My brother and my two daughters are checked each year since they are considered high risk.

Smoking

As I thought about other things we had in common, I realized we all smoked or were former smokers. My research confirmed my suspicion – smokers are twice as likely to have AMD as non-smokers.2 Smoking is considered the most significant modifiable risk factor for AMD. I had stopped smoking by my late 40’s but the damage was already done.

Obesity

My third observation was that all four of us were significantly overweight. Carrying extra pounds around the middle is common to people with AMD.3 Today I am no longer overweight but I have to work at it daily.

Sun exposure

A fourth shared risk factor is unprotected sun exposure.3

My mom’s job required her to be outdoors much of each day. Likewise, my son was a truck driver and had a lot of sun exposure. As teenagers, my sister and I often sunbathed and seldom wore sunglasses. Today, I try never to leave the house without my sunglasses in hand.

Uncontrolled cardiovascular disease

The fifth shared risk factor for AMD is having uncontrolled blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.3  Prior to her death, my mom had cardiovascular disease and had a heart attack. Unfortunately, Mom never made any changes in her lifestyle such as losing weight or exercising. Perhaps if she had done so, she would not have had wet macular degeneration.

In 2019, my sister had coronary artery bypass surgery. Since the surgery, she has developed heart failure.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol

Prior to my weight loss, I had both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Both are cardiovascular risk factors and may have an impact on my AMD. I have maintained a forty-pound weight loss for two years now. It is a daily struggle for me, but worth the effort. I no longer take blood pressure medication and only take a very low dose cholesterol medication.

In addition to his vision problems, my son is diabetic and has high blood pressure. He is slowly losing weight and has been able to decrease his diabetes medications. I am hopeful the changes will keep his early AMD from progressing.

Conclusion

After looking at all my risk factors, I should have said, “Why not me?” I cannot change what may have led to my development of AMD. What I can do, is work every day to preserve and/or slow the progression of my disease.

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