• Who is at Risk for Macular Degeneration?

    Written by: Kierstan Boyd
    Reviewed by: Raj K Maturi MD
    Jun. 18, 2014

    Recently much new information on macular degeneration has been discovered. Genetic changes appear to be responsible for approximately half the reason for individuals getting macular degeneration. Additionally, there are other risk factors for developing the disease. Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body's natural aging process. One large study found that the risk of getting macular degeneration jumps from about 2 percent of middle-aged people in their 50s to nearly 30 percent in people over age 75.

    Oxidative stress and macular degeneration

    Our bodies constantly react with the oxygen in our environment. Over our lifetimes, as a result of this activity, our bodies produce tiny molecules called free radicals. These free radicals affect our cells, sometimes damaging them. This is called oxidative stress and is thought to play a major role in how macular degeneration develops. Approximately 1 in 3 Caucasians have genetic changes that make them more prone to damage from oxidative stress, which can lead to macular degeneration.

    Macular degeneration in families

    Heredity is another risk factor for macular degeneration. People who have a close family member with the disease have a greater chance of developing macular degeneration themselves.

    Inflammation and macular degeneration

    Some studies have shown that inflammation (swelling of the body’s tissues) may play a role in macular degeneration development. Inflammation is the way the body’s immune system fights off infection or other things it considers “invaders.” But an overactive immune system with its associated inflammation may be a risk factor for macular degeneration.

    Smoking, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol and macular degeneration

    Smoking and high blood pressure are associated with the wet form of macular degeneration. Research also suggests there may be a link between being obese and having early or intermediate-stage macular degeneration develop into the advanced (wet) form.

    Another risk factor for developing macular degeneration may include having abnormal cholesterol levels or having high blood pressure (called hypertension).