Diabetes and Vision Loss: Take Action Now

By: jpurdy25
Before the 1970's, the general population did not consider diabetes to be a major health concern, let alone realize the adverse impacts diabetes would have on our society today. During those times, most of our attention was on other prominent diseases such as tuberculosis and polio. For those that were aware of the effects of diabetes, is was thought about more in the context of eliminating the sugar you would normally add to your coffee, as opposed to such a serious threat to your overall health, including eyesight.

With our current knowledge of the disease, that's all changing. It's not too much to say that diabetes is now reaching rampant levels in most of the western world. According to the American Diabetes Association there are over 20 million diabetics in the United States alone, with a staggering one third undiagnosed. It's also threatening to get a lot worse with another 41 million Americans already showing pre-diabetic signs.

Diabetes is a condition that mostly affects blood vessels and in it's extreme forms can lead to serious heart disease, stroke and kidney damage. Clearly these life threatening diabetic vascular diseases deserve priority consideration, but high on the critical list for diabetics is the danger of serious eye disease and loss of vision.

Vision is one of our most important senses and in this "need for speed" information era, above 70% of our sensory information comes through our eyes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, diabetics are 25 times more likely to lose vision than those who are not diabetic. With diabetes already as the number one cause of blindness in the United States, it's no wonder eye care professionals are predicting a deplorable increase in vision loss as the diabetic epidemic grows alarmingly.

Newly diagnosed diabetics frequently have nothing more than minor vision fluctuations which settle when blood sugar levels improve with management. Early on it's easy to accept everything is fine. After some years however, persistent high blood sugar can slowly impair the blood vessels at the back of the eye in the retina. This causes a problem called diabetic retinopathy and the longer you have diabetes the more probable you are to have retinopathy . The risk increases further when there is poor control of blood sugar levels. More than 70% of diabetics develop some changes in their eyes within 15 years of diagnosis.

Retinopathy is graded as Non-proliferative or Proliferative. Non-proliferative retinopathy is the common milder form, where small retinal blood vessels break and leak. There may be some moderate retinal swelling but it rarely requires treatment unless it causes hazy central vision or straight lines appear bent.

Proliferative retinopathy is the less common, but more serious form where new blood vessels grow abnormally within the retina. If these vessel scar or bleed they can lead to potentially serious vision loss including blindness. Early laser treatment can seal leaking vessels and ease the progress of diabetic retinopathy, but can't reverse existing eyesight loss.

For now, there is no "magic tablet" to exclude the risk of diabetic eye damage, but you can do two important things to help prevent the more serious complications.

1. Poor blood sugar control is one of the main causes of serious diabetic retinopathy . The critical initial step is making sure you stabilize and control your blood sugar with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

2. The second step is to make certain you have a yearly diabetic eye exam. An experienced eye care professional can pick up subtle diabetic eye changes long before you notice any vision change, and more importantly, early enough to do some good.

If you, or your family are affected by this rising epidemic of diabetes, take action now to reduce your risk of vision loss. Being proactive is critical to ensuring a long and healthy life.
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