Keeping track of these numbers could help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and delay vision loss if you already have geographic atrophy.

Geographic atrophy (GA) is an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that affects nearly 20 million people in the United States. AMD is an eye disease that damages the macula, the part of the retina that provides clear central vision.

About 1 million people in the United States have GA, with about 160,000 new cases reported each year.

In GA, cells and blood vessels in the retina die. The damage slowly expands and can lead to blind spots or permanent vision loss over time.

Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase the risk of AMD progressing to GA. They may also make GA worse in people who already have it.

High blood pressure damages blood vessels in the retina, which reduces blood flow to the retina.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol collects under the retina and forms deposits called drusen. Having more drusen is a sign that AMD is getting worse. High cholesterol levels may increase the risk of AMD progressing to GA.

Learn why you should monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels if you have GA or are at risk of developing it and how to check your numbers.

Blood pressure measures the force of blood pushing against the artery walls as it flows from the heart to the rest of the body.

Your blood pressure reading is reported as two numbers:

  • Systolic blood pressure: This is the top number. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure: This is the bottom number. It measures the pressure in the arteries in between heartbeats.

Having high blood pressure for a long period of time can damage arteries. This damage can increase the risk of heart problems and vision loss.

How to monitor

You can have your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s office, at a pharmacy, or at home. Your doctor can teach you how to test at home using a home blood pressure monitor.

Try to measure your blood pressure at the same time each day. Avoid exercise, smoking, and caffeine within 30 minutes of taking your blood pressure because these things could affect your readings. It’s best to sit with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor while checking your blood pressure.

Taking two readings at a time, spaced one minute apart, may give you a more accurate blood pressure measurement. You can record the results in your blood pressure monitor’s memory, in an app, or on paper to share with your doctor.

How often to monitor

Starting at age 40, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends having your blood pressure checked by your doctor at least once a year. You may need to start earlier if you’re at risk for high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor can let you know how often to check it at home.

Target blood pressure ranges

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). According to the American Heart Association (AHA), blood pressure ranges are defined as follows:

CategorySystolic (mm Hg)Diastolic (mm Hg)
Healthyless than 120and less than 80
Elevated120–129and less than 80
Stage 1 high blood pressure130–139or 80–89
Stage 2 high blood pressure140 or higheror 90 or higher
High blood pressure crisis
(seek medical care immediately)
higher than 180and/or higher than 120

For people diagnosed with high blood pressure, the goal is to reach a blood pressure reading of less than 130/80 mm Hg.

Lifestyle changes may help you manage or lower your blood pressure. These may include eating a heart-healthy and low-salt diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a moderate weight. If you have high blood pressure plus heart disease risks, your doctor might prescribe blood pressure-lowering medication.

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that circulates through the bloodstream. Tests to measure cholesterol include a few numbers:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This is the type of cholesterol doctors consider unhealthy because it can build up and block your arteries. This can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: This type of cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from your arteries, which can help protect against heart attack and stroke. However, research has linked high HDL to an increased risk of advanced AMD. One possible reason is that having more HDL might produce bigger drusen.
  • Triglycerides: These are another type of fat in the blood. People with high triglycerides may also have high LDL and total cholesterol levels.
  • Total cholesterol: This number is measured by adding HDL, LDL, and 20% of the triglyceride level.

How to monitor

Doctors check cholesterol levels with a blood test called a lipid panel. A healthcare professional will take blood from your finger or arm. A lipid panel measures total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

How often to monitor

The AHA recommends that healthy adults age 20 or older get a cholesterol test once every 4–6 years. People who have heart disease or are at risk for it may need to get their cholesterol checked more often.

Target cholesterol ranges

Doctors measure cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). These are considered healthy cholesterol levels for adults ages 20 and older:

Type of cholesterolHealthy range
Total cholesterol125 to 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterolless than 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol40 mg/dL or higher in men
50 mg/dL or higher in women
Triglyceridesless than 150 mg/dL

Because high HDL cholesterol is linked to the risk of advanced AMD, your doctor might recommend different target ranges for you.

GA is a late stage of AMD that can lead to permanent vision loss. High blood pressure damages blood vessels in the retina, which could accelerate damage to the eyes. High cholesterol might lead to more deposits called drusen under the retina.

Your doctor will let you know how often to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They can also tell you what targets to aim for as you try to manage these numbers with diet, exercise, and medication if you need it.