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Retinopathy Common in Diabetic Adults

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2010

Nearly 30% of U.S. diabetes patients over the age of 40 may have diabetic retinopathy, with 4% of this population affected to the point where their vision is threatened, suggests a new study.

The condition is the leading cause of new cases of legal blindness among U.S. adults between 20 and 74 years old. It costs the U.S. approximately $500 million every year.

Lead researcher Dr. Xinzhi Zhang, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta states that, "The number of people with diabetes is increasing in this country."

Yet, he added, estimates of how many Americans suffer from diabetic retinopathy remain more than a decade old. To learn whether the condition is the rise, or whether screening and treatment are keeping it under control, Dr. Zhang and his colleagues analyzed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from 2005 to 2008.

Out of 1,006 older adults with diabetes who had undergone diagnostic eye imaging, 29% had diabetic retinopathy, and 4% had vision-threatening cases.

The rates were about 40% percent and 250% higher, respectively, than estimates dating back to an earlier NHANES study from 1988 to 1994.

"But we don't know if the increase is due to an actual rise in prevalence or if it is due to using a more precise method of assessing damage to eyes in the most recent study," noted Dr. Zhang, pointing out that the new study included two digital images of each eye compared to the previous study's single image of one eye.

The researchers found that men had a significantly higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy compared to women. Other risk factors included a longer duration with diabetes, use of insulin, high systolic blood pressure, and high levels of hemoglobin A1c.

Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic blacks also had significantly higher rates of the condition compared to non-Hispanic whites, the researchers reported online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As the U.S. population ages and the proportion of racial minorities grows, it is important for the health care system to be prepared for the increasing demand, said Dr. Zhang. "With early detection and timely treatment, people have a good chance of preventing or reducing vision loss."

Source:, JAMA. August 11, 2010. Abstract

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