Diabetes-related vision loss growing worldwide

Diabetes-related vision loss growing worldwide

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the retina that damages sight as a result of chronic high blood sugar in diabetes. The high sugar damages the delicate blood vessels in the retina - the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye.

As the damage increases, the blood vessels begin to leak and distort vision. In people with advanced diabetic retinopathy, new, abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina, causing further damage and eventually permanent scarring and vision loss or blindness.

The worldwide burden of diabetes-related vision loss is growing alarmingly. Over 2 decades from 1990-2010, the number of people worldwide with diabetes-related blindness or visual impairment rose by an alarming 27 percent and 64 percent, respectively. In 2010, 1 in every 52 people had vision loss and 1 in every 39 people were blind due to diabetic retinopathy - where the retina is damaged by diabetes.

These figures are the result of an analysis by a global consortium, who recently published their work online in the journal Diabetes Care.

As the number of people living with diabetes worldwide grows, so does the chance that more people will develop diabetic retinopathyand suffer subsequent vision loss, especially if they do not receive or adhere to the care they need.

Lead author Janet Leasher, associate professor of the College of Optometry at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, says:

"Unfortunately diabetic retinopathy usually does not have any symptoms in the early stages."

Thus, it is important that people with diabetes have their eyes tested every year, follow the advice of their eye health practitioner, and make sure they keep their blood sugar under control.

The researchers extracted and pooled data on diabetic retinopathy to produce estimates of global regional trends on the condition as a cause of moderate and severe vision impairment and blindness.

They found that over the period 1990-2010, South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and West Sub-Saharan Africa, were the regions with the highest number of people with visual impairment due to diabetic retinopathy, while East Asia, Tropical Latin America, and South Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest number of people rendered blind by the condition.

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