Sharp rise in diabetic eye disease makes American Diabetes Month ever more important

November 7, 2012, National Institutes of Health

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in the United States. According to recent studies funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), diabetic retinopathy, one of the most common and debilitating complications of diabetes, increased by 3.7 million new cases over the last decade. Approximately 7.7 million Americans are now affected by diabetic retinopathy. Even more alarming, the rate is projected to climb to 11 million by 2030. People with diabetes are also at greater risk for cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye lens, and glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve. But diabetic retinopathy is by far the most common sight-threatening condition among people with diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in adults aged 20 to 74 years.

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms. The disease begins to damage the small blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensing layer of tissue in the back of the , causing them to leak fluid and blood. As the disease progresses, blood vessels become blocked and rupture or new vessels grow on the retina, leading to permanent and sometimes profound vision loss.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments to help prevent vision loss from , but early detection and timely treatment are critically important. During American Month this November, the National Eye Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, encourages people with diabetes to take steps to prevent complications of diabetes. In addition to controlling and blood pressure through healthy eating, adequate exercise, and medication, people with diabetes should have annual dilated to identify early signs of diabetic retinopathy and other diabetic . Comprehensive dilated eye exams allow eye care professionals to monitor the eye, including the retina, for signs of disease. Ninety percent of diabetes-related blindness is preventable through early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care.

NEI currently dedicates about 40 million dollars in research funding each year to better understand, prevent, and treat diabetic retinopathy.

The NEI Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network ( is a collaboration of more than 300 physicians at more than 100 clinical sites across the United States. Since 2002, has coordinated 18 clinical studies investigating treatments for various diabetes-related conditions, including a condition that causes central vision loss called macular edema.

A 2010 study of people with diabetic macular edema, a consequence of diabetic retinopathy where fluid accumulates on the retina, showed that about 50 percent of participants treated with eye injections of the drug Lucentis combined with conventional laser treatment had dramatic improvements in vision, compared to about 30 percent of participants who received laser treatment alone. This is the first new treatment for diabetic eye disease in 25 years. Based on these findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Lucentis for the treatment of diabetic macular edema.

The Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes Eye Study, sponsored in part by the NEI, showed that intensive control of blood glucose and blood lipids, including cholesterol, slows the progression of .

Through its National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), NEI provides free English and Spanish language resources to educate and increase awareness about diabetic eye disease. During American Diabetes Month, NEHEP will expand its year-round efforts in educating people with diabetes about the importance of early detection, with special emphasis on populations at higher risk of including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians, and Alaska Natives with diabetes.

In addition to using traditional and social media outlets to reach people with diabetes, NEHEP is also encouraging health professionals to refer patients with diabetes for annual dilated eye exams. NEHEP is providing community-based organizations and community health workers with culturally appropriate resources and teaching tools to educate people with diabetes about the lack of early warning signs associated with diabetic eye disease and how important it is to make annual eye exams a routine part of diabetes self-management.

Explore further: FDA approves drug to treat diabetic macular edema

More information:

Related Stories

FDA approves drug to treat diabetic macular edema

August 13, 2012
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced its approval of Lucentis (ranibizumab injection) for the treatment of diabetic macular edema, or DME, an eye condition in people with diabetes that causes blurred vision, ...

Recommended for you

Genetic discovery may help better identify children at risk for type 1 diabetes

January 17, 2018
Six novel chromosomal regions identified by scientists leading a large, prospective study of children at risk for type 1 diabetes will enable the discovery of more genes that cause the disease and more targets for treating ...

Women who have gestational diabetes in pregnancy are at higher risk of future health issues

January 16, 2018
Women who have gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during pregnancy have a higher than usual risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and ischemic heart disease in the future, according to new research led by the ...

Diabetes gene found that causes low and high blood sugar levels in the same family

January 15, 2018
A study of families with rare blood sugar conditions has revealed a new gene thought to be critical in the regulation of insulin, the key hormone in diabetes.

Discovery could lead to new therapies for diabetics

January 12, 2018
New research by MDI Biological Laboratory scientist Sandra Rieger, Ph.D., and her team has demonstrated that an enzyme she had previously identified as playing a role in peripheral neuropathy induced by cancer chemotherapy ...

Enzyme shown to regulate inflammation and metabolism in fat tissue

January 11, 2018
The human body has two primary kinds of fat—white fat, which stores excess calories and is associated with obesity, and brown fat, which burns calories in order to produce heat and has garnered interest as a potential means ...

Big strides made in diabetes care

January 5, 2018
(HealthDay)—This past year was a busy, productive one for diabetes research and care.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.