Adopting Healthier Lifestyle May Be Factor in Decreased Macular Degeneration Rate

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Fewer adults are developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and researchers believe that a decrease in risk factors such as smoking, diet and physical activity may play a role in the decreased prevalence of the condition. AMD, a major cause of vision loss in the United States, has decreased over the last 15 years.

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Ronald Klein, MD MPH of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and colleagues analyzed data collected in the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study included information about more than 7,000 patients aged 40 and older who answered survey questions and underwent digital eye imaging which reveals changes in the retina.

About 6.5% of the study population was found to have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye disease that gradually destroys sharp, central vision, making it difficult to see fine details, such during reading and driving. This is down from 9.4% of adults who participated in the NHANES study from 1988 to 1994.

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The opposite national trend for AMD had been expected because of rising life expectancies, but risk factor reduction appeared to have won out, suggests Dr. Klein in the January issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.

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There are two forms of AMD – dry and wet. Dry AMD, the most common form occurring in about 90% of patients, occurs when light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly breakdown. The most common symptoms are blurred vision and drusen (yellow deposits under the retina). Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These vessels are fragile and often leak blood and fluid which displaces the retina and causes rapid damage.

Once AMD reaches the advanced stage, there is no treatment that can prevent vision loss. However, treatments are available that can delay and possibly prevent intermediate AMD from progressing into the advanced stages.

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The greatest risk factor for AMD is age. While age is uncontrollable, other risk factors that affect AMD can be avoided. These include smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.

The National Eye Institute recommends the following lifestyle changes to make to decrease the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration:
• Eat a healthy diet high in green leafy vegetables and fish.
• Don’t smoke.
• Maintain normal blood pressure.
• Watch your weight
• Exercise.

Source reference:
Klein R, et al "Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in the US population" Arch Ophthalmol 2011; 129: 75-80.

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