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How Common is Macular Degeneration?

When looking at medical conditions and diseases, statistics and epidemiology can give us a broad picture of the condition and who is affected. While the experience of the condition is a very personal thing and people aren’t statistics, when taken as part of the larger whole, the numbers can provide a more detailed glimpse into the condition and help provide context for risk factors, treatment, and living with the condition.

What is epidemiology?

When we talk about epidemiology of a disease, we’re looking at the incidence and distribution of the ailment, as well as possible causes and contributing factors to the disease. This can provide helpful information about the causes and potential treatments for the condition.

How common is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)?

AMD is a progressive condition that causes central vision loss and blindness, and is a leading cause of visual impairment in older adults.

  • It is estimated that by 2020, 196 million individuals worldwide will be affected by AMD
  • AMD is the top cause of visual disability in the developed world, and the third cause worldwide
  • The yearly healthcare costs of AMD in the US is $255 billion, making up almost half of all costs related to care for vision loss1

Who gets AMD?

True to its name, the prevalence of age-related macular degeneration increases with age. The majority of individuals with AMD are white, and women have a higher risk of developing AMD than men. This might be explained by the fact that women typically have a longer life expectancy than men, and since your risk of developing AMD increases with age, it makes sense that more women than men would be diagnosed.2

Figure 1. AMD prevalence by age and race

prevalence distribution for those with age related macular degeneration ages 50 and older

Figure 2. AMD prevalence by race

89 percent of those diagnosed with age related macular degeneration are white

Figure 3. AMD prevalence by gender

65 percent of those diagnosed with age related macualar degeneration are female

Risk factors for AMD

While it is not exactly known what causes AMD, there are known risk factors for the condition that can contribute to developing AMD; some are able to be modified, while others are not. Age and family history of the disease, two things that are not able to be controlled or changed, are the strongest risk factors for AMD.1 Having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean you will develop AMD, but it’s important to be aware of your potential for developing the condition so you can take steps to increase and maintain your health and eye health. Risk factors can include:

Non-modifiable risk factors

  • Genetics: a person with a sibling or parent with AMD is 12 to 27 times more likely to develop AMD than a person with no such family history1
  • Sex: women are 1.3 times more likely than men to develop AMD1
  • Age: those over 55 years old are more likely to develop the disease than those who are younger and one-third of adults over the age of 75 are affected by AMD1,3

Modifiable risk factors

  • Smoking: the most important modifiable risk factor affecting the development or progression of AMD; people who currently smoke are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers, and the more you smoke, the more your risk increases4
  • Diet: a high-glycemic diet, along with certain nutrient deficiencies, can increase the risk of developing AMD as well as progression of the disease5,6
  • Sunlight exposure: some studies have found that early exposure to excess sunlight might increase the risk of developing AMD, but more research is necessary7

How common is Stargardt disease?

Stargardt disease is different from AMD in that it is an inherited disorder of the retina. Typically, vision loss starts to occur in childhood or adolescence, but some individuals do not experience any vision loss until late adolescence or young adulthood. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 8,000-10,000 individuals has Stargardt disease. The gene ABCA4 is responsible for about 95 percent of instances of this condition, with the remaining cases caused by mutations in other genes that are involved in lipofuscin production.8

How common is myopic macular degeneration?

Individuals with severe nearsightedness are often said to have myopia, or sometimes, high myopia. The measurement of corrective lenses to bring eyesight to normal vision is called a diopter, and when someone has severe nearsightedness requiring –6 diopters or more, they are at increased risk of developing myopic macular degeneration.9 In myopia, the eye is “stretched” only a few millimeters, but this stretching can cause damage to the retina and impair vision. The cells in the retina can die because of the stretching, causing a blank spot in central vision, similar to AMD. It is estimated that approximately 10 million individuals worldwide have myopic macular degeneration, although the number is not known for sure.10

What can you do?

If you’re concerned about your risk factors for developing macular degeneration, especially AMD, talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes you can make to help minimize your risks and see your eye doctor regularly for exams. While they’re important for research purposes, statistics and risk factors are only part of the bigger picture – you are not a statistic.

Jaime R. Herndon | December 2018
  1. DeAngelis MM, Owen LA, Morrison MA, et al. Genetics of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Hum Mol Genet. 2017; 26(R1):R45-R50. Doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddx228. Accessed September 20, 2018.
  2. Age-Related Macular Degeneration: AMD Defined. National Eye Institute website. https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/amd. Accessed September 20, 2018.
  3. Macular Degeneration: Prevention & Risk Factors. BrightFocus website. 2018. https://www.brightfocus.org/macular/prevention-and-risk-factors. Accessed September 21, 2018.
  4. Armstrong RA, Mousavi M. Overview of Risk Factors for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). J Stem Cells. 2015; 10(3): 171-91. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27125062. Accessed September 21, 2018.
  5. Piazza G. How Diet May Affect Age-Related Macular Degeneration. National Institutes of Health website. 2017. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-diet-may-affect-age-related-macular-degeneration. Accessed September 21, 2018.
  6. Nutrition and Age-Related Macular Degeneration. American Optometric Association website. 2018. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/nutrition/nutrition-and-age-related-macular-degeneration. Accessed September 21, 2018.
  7. Guo-Yuan S, Guang-Cong L, Guang-Ying L, et al. Is sunlight exposure a risk factor for age-related macular degeneration? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British J of Ophthalmology. 2013; 97: 389-394. https://bjo.bmj.com/content/97/4/389. Accessed September 21, 2018.
  8. Facts About Stargardt Disease. National Eye Institute website. https://nei.nih.gov/health/stargardt/star_facts. Accessed January 25, 2019.
  9. Myopic Macular Degeneration. BrightFocus Foundation website. 2018. https://www.brightfocus.org/macular/article/myopic-macular. Accessed January 25, 2019.
  10. Fricke TR, Jong M, Naidoo KS, et al. Global prevalence of visual impairment associated with myopic macular degeneration and temporal trends from 2000 through 2050: systematic review, meta-analysis, and modelling. British J of Ophthalmology. 2017; 102(7). Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjophthalmol-2017-311266.