Age-related macular degeneration may start as early as 35: Cohort study

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

"Our research shows that age-related macular degeneration can already occur much earlier than previously thought," say researchers behind 4,340-strong cohort study.
"Our research shows that age-related macular degeneration can already occur much earlier than previously thought," say researchers behind 4,340-strong cohort study.

Related tags Age-related macular degeneration Epidemiology

An early form of the eye condition age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can occur in people as young as 35, according to German researchers.

Just under 4% of the subjects aged 35 to 44 in the 4,340-strong cohort study were found to be suffering from AMD, damage to the cells in the central retina which leads to a loss of sharpness of vision.

Dr Christina Korb, who led the ongoing Mainz University Medical Centre research, told NutraIngredients the 3.8% recorded for this younger group was “higher than we expected, as usually AMD is defined as a disease in people in their 50s and beyond. The 35 to 44 year olds were a younger affected age group than we initially expected”.

"Our research shows that age-related macular degeneration can already occur much earlier than previously thought. This means there may also be possible consequences with regard to the screening examinations for these diseases," ​she said. 

Photographic assessment of the ocular fundus of 4,340 participants (2,188 men and 2,152 women with a mean age of 55.5) suggested in general that incidence of AMD increased with age. The researchers said the population-based sample was the first to provide substantial epidemiologic data from a large German cohort, including data on macular degeneration in younger age groups and incidence data.

Age-old problem

The researchers said it was widely accepted that AMD was the most common cause of visual impairment and blindness in industrialised countries, yet they said it remained “questionable”​ whether this could continue to be defined as a disease in people aged 50 and above. Dr Korb said currently early AMD was classified as stage one to three (soft drusen, pigmentary abnormalities), while late AMD was classed as stages 4a and 4b (geographic atrophy or neovascular AMD).

The researchers said the findings of the ongoing Gutenberg Health Study conducted since 2007 helped them gain an insight into how frequently the various forms of age-related macular degeneration occurred.

On average, around 12% of the 35- to 74-year-old participants had early stage AMD, while only 0.2% of the study participants showed late-stage AMD symptoms associated with severe visual impairment.

Dr Korb added that the younger age groups suffered from early AMD forms, in which case supplementation of things like carotenoids was “not recommended”.

Collecting data

The Gutenberg Health Study is the Mainz University Medical Centre’s longitudinal study aiming to improve risk prediction for conditions including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, eye diseases, metabolic disorders as well as immune system and mental disorders.

During the baseline visit in 2007 for the overall research, 15,010 participants aged 35 to 74 years participated in a five-hour examination program. In 2010 a computer-assisted telephone interview assessed diseases and health problems, while in 2012 the researchers conducted a detailed follow-up examination similar to the baseline examination five years previously. 

Moving forward with further monitoring and tests, the research group hoped to establish the incidence of AMD across the whole population of Germany, an area they said was currently lacking.


Source: Graefes Archive for Clinical Experimental Ophthalmology

Published online ahead of print, DOI:10.1007/s00417-014-2591-9

“Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in a large European cohort: Results from the population-based Gutenberg Health Study”

Authors: C.A. Korb, U.B. Kottler, C. Wolfram, R. Hoehn, A. Schulz, I. Zwiener, P.S. Wild, N. Pfeiffer, A. Mirshahi

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