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University of Iowa News

May 31, 2006

UI Doctors Provide Latest Information On Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the Western world, has reached epidemic levels. Eye experts at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics help patients with AMD reduce their risk of vision loss and help others reduce the risk of even developing the disease.

Nearly 15 percent of people age 70 and older have AMD, and it affects nearly one in three individuals age 80 and older. AMD destroys the central vision by damaging the macula, the part of the retina that provides detail and color vision.

"Patients with AMD fear they will go totally blind, and that there's nothing they can do about it," said James Folk, M.D., an ophthalmologist who also is a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

"We allay their fears and tell them that they can do a lot to reduce their risk of vision loss," Folk said.

With years of clinical experience, Folk and Mark E. Wilkinson, O.D., UI clinical associate professor of ophthalmology, knew that patients at risk for or newly diagnosed with AMD were eager for current information they could understand.

To help meet that need, they wrote "Protect Your Sight: How to Save Your Vision in the Epidemic of Age-Related Macular Degeneration," a book for patients with AMD, as well as eye doctors.

The book contains the latest information on the disease and specific steps people with AMD should take to help keep their vision. It also contains detailed information on visual aids for those who have already lost vision, the future of AMD research and tips on how to best keep up with the latest discoveries and treatments.

"Protect Your Sight" is published in electronic form at www.medrounds.org/protect-your-sight, where it can be read online for free. Print copies also can be ordered for a fee at the site.

"We put the book online to make it more accessible to the greatest number of people," Folk said. "The format makes it easy for us to update the book because this is a rapidly evolving field. It is virtually impossible for the general eye doctor, much less the patient, to keep up with advances that save vision."

Folk also maintains a blog at www.medrounds.org/amd to keep other clinicians, researchers and interested lay people updated on AMD issues.

Anyone over age 65 should make it a habit of checking each eye separately by covering one eye and making sure the vision in the other eye is not blurred or distorted, Folk emphasized.

"If straight lines look bent, this could be a sign of AMD. It's important not to delay diagnosis," Folk said.

The disease can be slowed by avoiding too much fatty or fried foods and eating fresh vegetables and fish instead. High doses of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and zinc have also been shown to reduce the risk of progression by 25 percent over five years, Folk said. However, as with all health care, it is best to consult with your personal physician before making any change to your diet or health care routine.

The wet form of AMD, which accounts for about 10 percent of all AMD cases, involves the in-growth of abnormal blood vessels beneath the retina. These vessels bleed and scar, causing rapid vision loss.

"The treatments for the wet form are improving rapidly," Folk said, "but work best if the vessel changes are caught early, making it paramount that people with AMD check their vision frequently.

"We can actually improve the vision in many patients with wet AMD if they come to see us early enough," he added.

In contrast, the dry form of AMD, affecting nearly 90 percent of people with AMD, is a slower process, as the cells in the macula gradually become sick and die. Currently, there is no proven treatment for the dry form but small studies of various drugs are under way.

Genetics research, including investigations at the UI Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration, is helping advance understanding and treatment of AMD. In addition, the UI is involved in many clinical studies that are testing new treatments for the wet and dry forms of the disease. Visit the center at www.c4md.org.

Individuals with AMD concerns may contact the UI Vitreoretinal Service secretarial staff: Ramona Weber at 319-356-8161 or ramona-weber@uiowa.edu or Susan Rath at 319-356-3185 at susan-rath@uiowa.edu.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

BOOK INFORMATION: www.medrounds.org/protect-your-sight

PROGRAM CONTACT: Vitroretinal Service Secretarial Staff: Ramona Weber, 319-356-8161, ramona-weber@uiowa.edu or Susan Rath, 319-356-3185, susan-rath@uiowa.edu.

MEDIA CONTACT (Reporters Only): Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660 becky-soglin@uiowa.edu