Importance: Treatments for geographic atrophy (GA), a late stage of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are currently under development. Understanding the natural course is needed for optimal trial design. Although enlargement rates of GA and visual acuity (VA) in the short term are known from clinical studies, knowledge of enlargement in the long term, life expectancy, and visual course is lacking.
Objective: To determine long-term enlargement of GA.
Design, Setting, and Participants: In this study, participant data were collected from 4 population-based cohort studies, with up to 25 years of follow-up and eye examinations at 5-year intervals: the Rotterdam Study cohorts 1, 2, and 3 and the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Data were collected from 1990 to 2015, and data were analyzed from January 2019 to November 2020.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Area of GA was measured pixel by pixel using all available imaging. Area enlargement and enlargement of the square root-transformed area, time until GA reached the central fovea, and time until death were assessed, and best-corrected VA, smoking status, macular lesions according to the Three Continent AMD Consortium classification, a modified version of the Wisconsin age-related maculopathy grading system, and AMD genetic variants were covariates in Spearman, Pearson, or Mann-Whitney analyses.
Results: Of 171 included patients, 106 (62.0%) were female, and the mean (SD) age at inclusion was 82.6 (7.1) years. A total of 147 of 242 eyes with GA (60.7%) were newly diagnosed in our study. The mean area of GA at first presentation was 3.74 mm2 (95% CI, 3.11-4.67). Enlargement rate varied widely between persons (0.02 to 4.05 mm2 per year), with a mean of 1.09 mm2 per year (95% CI, 0.89-1.30). Stage of AMD in the other eye was correlated with GA enlargement (Spearman ρ = 0.34; P = .01). Foveal involvement was already present in incident GA in 55 of 147 eyes (37.4%); 23 of 42 eyes (55%) developed this after a mean (range) period of 5.6 (3-12) years, and foveal involvement did not develop before death in 11 of 42 eyes (26%). After first diagnosis, 121 of 171 patients with GA (70.8%) died after a mean (SD) period of 6.4 (5.4) years. Visual function was visually impaired (less than 20/63) in 47 of 107 patients (43.9%) at last visit before death.
Conclusions and Relevance: In this study, enlargement of GA appeared to be highly variable in the general population. More than one-third of incident GA was foveal at first presentation; those with extrafoveal GA developed foveal GA after a mean of 5.6 years. Future intervention trials should focus on recruiting those patients who have a high chance of severe visual decline within their life expectancy.