South Asians More at Risk for Diabetic Retinopathy

A recent study out of England has concluded that South Asians are significantly more likely to suffer from diabetic retinopathy than Caucasian Europeans. This is troubling news, especially for the densely populated, and highly diabetic, country of India.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs through damage to small blood vessels within the retina, caused by high blood sugar levels. This can result in macular edema (the leaking of fluid from the damaged blood vessels), or hemorrhaging, and can lead to blindness. Retinopathy most often occurs in individuals suffering from diabetes for many years, that do not sufficiently monitor their condition (especially poor maintenance of cholesterol and blood pressure levels). More than one-third of diabetics suffer from some form of retinopathy after living with the disease for some time, though the current study has shown that South Asians develop retinopathy both more often and faster than Caucasians.

1,035 type 2 diabetes patients, 614 white Europeans, and 421 South Asians, were analyzed in the study. It was observed that 45% of South Asians suffered from retinopathy, with 16% suffering from “sight threatening” retinopathy. This was compared to 37% of Caucasians suffering from retinopathy, with 12% of caucasians having sight threatening retinopathy. It was also noted that South Asians developed retinopathy approximately seven years earlier than Caucasian diabetics.

Study author Dr. Sudhesh Kumar speaks of the dangers and potentials of his teams findings, and explains why South Asians appear to develop retinopathy so early and frequently. “The South Asian participants in this study had significantly higher systolic and diastolic blood pressures and cholesterol levels. Systematic screening for retinopathy, combined with intensive management of diabetes, including reduction of blood glucose and blood pressure, could help to reduce the incidence of visual impairment and blindness in ethnic minority groups across the world, addressing an important health inequality.”

South Asia, especially India, is in terrible shape as far as diabetes awareness and prevention. In fact, India is the world leader in diabetes incidence, with over 30 million cases, and that number is expected to more than double over the next twenty years. It’s interesting to mention that although it wasn’t the purpose of the study, it was observed that South Asians developed diabetes, not just retinopathy, earlier than Caucasians, as well. In the current study, the average age of diabetes diagnosis for South Asians was 53 years, compared to 57years for Caucasians. Better awareness and medical care for this, and other sections, of the less-privileged world, must be supplied in order to combat the growing epidemic of diabetes.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Kumer, Sudhesh. Parkes-Harrison, Kelly. Diabetes Care news release. March 2009.