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Macular Degeneration Tests

Three Tests to Determine Your Risk for Developing Macular Degeneration

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Updated July 12, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If someone in your family has experienced severe vision loss from macular degeneration, you may be wondering about your chances of developing the disease. Genetic testing can help determine your risk of developing macular degeneration.

The following three tests can help determine your risk of developing advanced macular degeneration:

  • Macula Risk: This genetic test measures your inheritable risk factors and combines them with your history of smoking, giving you a measurement of your potential risk for developing advanced macular degeneration. Studies have shown that this test has an 83% predictive value. To perform the test, your doctor will simply swab your cheek. Medicare covers the cost of the test, but if you do not have a diagnosis of early or mild macular degeneration, you may have a $750 bill to pay.
  • AMD Risk Assessment Test: This test looks at three different genes that are associated with a higher risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration. Interestingly, the test also analyzes three genes that are associated with a decreased risk of the disease. This test is not yet commercially available in the United States.
  • RetnaGene AMD: RetnaGene tests for a severe form and complication of advanced AMD known as choroidal neovascular AMD. In this form of the disease, a network of weak, fragile blood vessels develop in the macula. This formation puts you at a higher risk of developing severe vision loss. Most insurance companies will cover the test and it can be ordered by a retinal specialist.

Is genetic testing for macular degeneration necessary?

Genetic testing is controversial, and your doctor may not recommend it. Some doctors feel that knowing your risk only make you worry and create undue stress in your life. Additionally, some doctors feel that there may be other genes that are yet to be discovered that can put you at risk, giving a false sense of security.

However, this information could allow doctors to better counsel their patients before they actually develop the disease. Patients might start modifying their lives, such as discontinuing smoking or changing dietary habits in hopes of reducing their own risk. Also, doctors could utilize the information to plan successful follow-up care for at-risk patients, and possibly begin gene therapy in an effort to alter the genes and pathways responsible for causing the disease.

Source:

Ferrucci, Steven. Review of Optometry, A look at Genetic Testing for AMD, 2nd Annual Retina Report, pp 83-88, 15 June 2011.

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