Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration projected to increase substantially by 2020

April 12, 2004

CHICAGO - Due to the rapidly aging population, the number of people in the United States with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people older than 65 years, will increase from 1.75 million people to almost 3 million people by the year 2020, according to an article in the April issue of The Archives of Ophthalmology, a theme issue on blindness, and one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

AMD is a disorder of the retina (the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye) that can cause gradual vision loss, and is the leading cause of blindness among European-descended people older than 65 years. According to the article, recent research has demonstrated that the likelihood of vision loss from AMD can be reduced with high-dose vitamin supplementation and with certain laser procedures. Policy planners need estimates of the prevalence of AMD to determine the benefit of these and future therapies, the article states, but current estimates are conflicted.

David S. Friedman, M.D., M.P.H., of the Wilmer Eye Institute, at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, and a member of The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, and colleagues estimated the prevalence and distribution of AMD in the United States by pooling findings from large, population-based studies conducted over the past 20 years. The researchers applied the prevalence rates to 2000 U.S. Census data and to the projected U.S. population figures for 2020 to estimate the expected increase in AMD in the future.

The researchers found that the overall prevalence of AMD in the U.S. population 40 years and older is estimated to be 1.47 percent, with an estimated 1.75 million people having AMD. The prevalence of AMD increases dramatically with age, with more than 15 percent of white women older than 80 years having some form of AMD. More than 7 million people had drusen (deposits on the retina which are partially responsible for AMD), and were therefore at a substantial risk of developing AMD.

The researchers report that, "Owing to the rapidly aging population, the number of persons having AMD will increase by 50 percent to 2.95 million in 2020." They also found that AMD was far more prevalent among white people compared to black people.

"This article gives the best available estimate for the magnitude of the problem of AMD in the United States based on a meta-analysis of population-based data," the authors write. "The number of U.S. population affected by AMD is increasing as the population ages. More than one in ten white individuals 80 years and older has advanced AMD. A determined effort to identify effective preventive strategies will be needed if we are to avoid a large increase in the numbers of persons having this condition."
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(Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122:564-572. Available post-embargo at archophthalmol.com)

Editor's Note: The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group is an initiative sponsored by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Md.) with additional funding from Prevent Blindness America (Schaumburg, Ill.) that seeks to estimate the prevalence rates for major eye diseases.

To contact David S. Friedman, M.D., M.P.H., call John Lazarou at 410-502-8902

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312-464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org .

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