The Progression of Geographic Atrophy Secondary to Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Ophthalmology. 2018 Mar;125(3):369-390. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2017.08.038. Epub 2017 Oct 27.


Geographic atrophy (GA) is an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that leads to progressive and irreversible loss of visual function. Geographic atrophy is defined by the presence of sharply demarcated atrophic lesions of the outer retina, resulting from loss of photoreceptors, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and underlying choriocapillaris. These lesions typically appear first in the perifoveal macula, initially sparing the foveal center, and over time often expand and coalesce to include the fovea. Although the kinetics of GA progression are highly variable among individual patients, a growing body of evidence suggests that specific characteristics may be important in predicting disease progression and outcomes. This review synthesizes current understanding of GA progression in AMD and the factors known or postulated to be relevant to GA lesion enlargement, including both affected and fellow eye characteristics. In addition, the roles of genetic, environmental, and demographic factors in GA lesion enlargement are discussed. Overall, GA progression rates reported in the literature for total study populations range from 0.53 to 2.6 mm2/year (median, ∼1.78 mm2/year), assessed primarily by color fundus photography or fundus autofluorescence (FAF) imaging. Several factors that could inform an individual's disease prognosis have been replicated in multiple cohorts: baseline lesion size, lesion location, multifocality, FAF patterns, and fellow eye status. Because best-corrected visual acuity does not correspond directly to GA lesion enlargement due to possible foveal sparing, alternative assessments are being explored to capture the relationship between anatomic progression and visual function decline, including microperimetry, low-luminance visual acuity, reading speed assessments, and patient-reported outcomes. Understanding GA progression and its individual variability is critical in the design of clinical studies, in the interpretation and application of clinical trial results, and for counseling patients on how disease progression may affect their individual prognosis.

Trial registration: NCT02051998.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Progression
  • Fluorescein Angiography
  • Fundus Oculi
  • Geographic Atrophy / diagnosis*
  • Geographic Atrophy / etiology
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration / complications*
  • Macular Degeneration / diagnosis
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / pathology
  • Visual Acuity*

Associated data