Diabetes affects almost 29 million Americans, or 9 percent of the U.S. population. This disease is not just isolated to Western countries either. It is estimated that by the year 2030, 366 million people worldwide will have diabetes.
One common complication of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. Studies show that within three years after diagnosis of diabetes, 28 percent of adults will develop diabetic retinopathy and 4 percent will have advanced diabetic retinopathy. Unfortunately, this condition is often not diagnosed early because it develops slowly and patients do not realize the gradual change in their vision until it is too late. Today, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new-onset blindness in U.S. adults.
All health conditions and diseases require patients to be proactive in their care, but diabetes is unique in that patients can choose how they manage their risk factors. Regulating blood sugar and blood pressure should be done on a daily basis, and diabetics should follow all doctor recommendations for checkups. Daily choices in diet, taking medication and monitoring sugar levels have a significant impact on whether diabetics develop retinopathy.
Not only should diabetics visit their primary care physician regularly, they should also schedule annual comprehensive eye exams. Half of all patients with diabetes do not have their eyes examined every year, and the most common reasons are that they feel like they do not need it or cannot afford it. At this point, the problem is compounded. Patients with diabetes who do not manage risk factors often develop retinopathy, but it goes undiagnosed because they do not go to their doctor or ophthalmologist.
The incidence of blindness from diabetes could be decreased by 90 percent if all individuals with diabetic retinopathy got early intervention. If you have diabetes, there are some specific steps that you can follow to prevent the onset of diabetic retinopathy:
- Control blood glucose levels.
- Manage hypertension by making regular visits to your doctor and taking your blood pressure medication.
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight can slow or prevent complications from diabetes.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that is high in vegetables, whole grains, some fruits and lean meats.
- Get annual comprehensive eye exams so your ophthalmologist can assess your vision and monitor for diabetic retinopathy.
Remember, the longer you have had diabetes, the higher your risk for developing diabetic retinopathy and vision loss. Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease is the best way to preserve your eyesight, so never compromise your checkups and doctor visits. Take a moment to read our Diabetes and Eye Care reference tool for more information about how to keep your vision healthy (Source: US News).