The Diabetes-Glaucoma Connection

Most people think of glaucoma and diabetes as independent diseases with isolated lists of causes, symptoms and treatments. However, these seemingly disconnected conditions are actually quite intertwined.

Even though it is important for individuals of all ages to have routine comprehensive eye exams, it is even more essential for diabetics.  High blood glucose levels thickens capillary walls and can cause vascular damage.  When retinal blood vessels weaken, it can cause a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy is when retinal blood vessels leak and fluid accumulates in the retina, resulting in blurred vision.  As the disease progresses, blood vessels in the retina close and new, abnormal blood vessels grow in their place. This is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy and can lead to vision loss and detachment of the retina.

Accumulation of fluid around the retina and abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye can increase intraocular pressure and cause stress to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is characterized by increased pressure in the eye that damages the optic nerve. Therefore, there is a natural connection between diabetes and glaucoma.

Not all diabetics develop glaucoma, but diabetics are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Because of this, comprehensive eye exams are imperative, and diabetics should schedule eye exams at closer intervals than the recommended 1-2 years for most adults over the age of 40.

One way to safeguard yourself from developing glaucoma is to prevent diabetes. There are many risk factors over which you have no control, such as age and family history. Ethnicity is also significant, as African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are at higher risk for developing diabetes. Some risk factors, though, are connected to lifestyle choices such as diet, activity level and body weight.  You can decrease your risk for diabetes by incorporating regular exercise into your schedule and choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats instead of simple carbohydrates, high fat and processed foods.

As you begin a new year, renew your commitment to your health. Make an appointment for a physical, and schedule a comprehensive eye exam. Getting your eyes checked is actually a quick snapshot of your overall health. A pressure check in your eyes may help you know if you have ocular hypertension, and a retinal scan could indicate vascular weakness or poor circulation. Remember, early detection means early treatment! One preventative exam can make all the difference in your eyesight and wellness.


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