Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review Extracts from “Clinical Evidence”

Age related macular degeneration

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 23 September 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:741
  1. Jennifer J Arnold, consultant ophthalmologist (,
  2. Shirley H Sarks, honorary senior research associateb
  1. a Aberdeen Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, Aberdeen,
  2. b Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Randwick, NSW, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: J Arnold



    Age related macular degeneration is the late stage of age related maculopathy. It has two forms: atrophic (or dry), characterised by geographic atrophy, and exudative (or wet), characterised by choroidal neovascularisation, which eventually causes a disciform scar. 1 2



    Thermal laser photocoagulation

    Photodynamic treatment with verteporfin

    Unknown effectiveness:

    Proton beam and scleral plaque radiotherapy

    Submacular surgery

    Unlikely to be beneficial:

    External beam radiation

    Ineffective or harmful

    Subcutaneous interferon alfa-2a


    Age related macular degeneration is the commonest cause of blind registration in industrialised countries. The atrophic form is more common than the more sight threatening exudative form, affecting about 85% of people with age related macular degeneration.3 End stage (blinding) age related macular degeneration is found in about 1.7% of all people aged over 50, and incidence rises with age (0.7-1.4% in people aged 65-75, 11.0-18.5% in people aged over 85).4-6

    Aetiology/risk factors

    The aetiology is multifactorial. Age is the strongest risk factor. Ocular risk factors for the development of exudative age related macular degeneration include the presence of soft drusen, macular pigmentary change, and choroidal neovascularisation in the other eye. Systemic risk factors are hypertension, smoking, and positive family history. 7 8 A role for diet and exposure to ultraviolet light is suspected but unproved.


    Age related macular degeneration impairs central vision, which is required for reading, driving, face recognition, and all fine visual tasks. Atrophic age related macular degeneration progresses slowly over many years, and time to legal blindness (visual acuity <20/200) is highly variable (usually about 5–10 years). 9 10 Exudative age related macular degeneration is more threatening to vision and is responsible for 90% of severe visual loss in people with age related macular degeneration. It usually manifests with a sudden worsening and distortion of central vision. It progresses rapidly (typically over weeks or months) until scarring is complete and no further vision is lost, at …

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