St. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Diabetes can cause a number of serious side effects including eye conditions like cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, a condition that causes progressive damage to the eyes. Researchers are finding ways to see the very early signs of diabetic eye damage, so they can treat it before the damage is done.
For years, 63-year-old Barbara Alpan relied on her daughter Lara for rides, but not anymore. She was diabetic in her thirties, and it eventually took a toll on her eyes.
Barbara told Ivanhoe, “If I was driving and somebody came up on the left, I wouldn’t have seen them.”
Rithwick Rajagopal, an ophthalmologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an expert in diabetes-related vision loss.
Dr. Rajagopal said, “Currently, diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed and treated at the late stages of the disease.” (Read Full Interview)
For years, doctors have blamed vision loss on blood vessel damage around the retina, but new research shows eye injury may begin much earlier in nerve cells. Dr. Rajagopal and his colleagues fed mice a high-fat diet, giving them diabetes and then diabetic retinopathy. At six months, the mice showed signs of nerve problems.
“We could detect subtle issues in vision prior to the animals developing issues with retinal blood vessels,” detailed Dr. Rajagopal.
Researchers did not see actual blood vessel damage in the mice until 12 months. Dr. Rajagopal said this finding could lead to earlier diagnosis.
“Eye tests for example that might be able to tell us this person is at high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, while this other person might not be,” Dr. Rajagopal told Ivanhoe.
That could lead to early treatments. Doctors say Barbara was an exception. Surgery restored her eyesight despite advanced disease.
Barbara’s daughter, Lara said, “It’s had a huge impact on her well-being.”
Also on her confidence behind the wheel.
Researchers say other studies indicate people with diabetes go through a phase that seems to be similar to the early nerve damage that Washington University researchers found in mice. Doctors say it could be several years before new therapies could be developed to stop or reverse the nerve damage.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Tony D’Astoli, Editor; Brent Sucher, Videographer.
TOPIC: Detecting Early Eye Damage: Medicine’s Next Big Thing?
REPORT: MB #4148
BACKGROUND: Diabetic Retinopathy is a form of diabetes that affects the eyes. This is caused by damage to the blood vessels at the back of the eye. At first, diabetic retinopathy barely shows any symptoms but it eventually causes blindness. The condition is more likely to develop in a person with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The longer one has diabetes and the less controlled that person’s blood sugar is then they are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy over time. Diabetes prevents the body from using and storing sugar (glucose). This disease is often characterized by having too much sugar in the blood which can gradually cause terminal damage to different parts of the body including the eyes. As for diabetic retinopathy, the condition usually tends to affect both eyes because the retinal tissue is swollen which results in cloudy or blurry vision. When this disease is left untreated, it can cause a person to go completely blind.
SYMPTOMS: The symptoms for a person with diabetic retinopathy include: seeing spots/floaters, blurred vision, having a dark or empty spot in the center of your vision, difficulty seeing well at night and pain, pressure or constant redness of the eye. When diabetics experience long periods where they have high blood sugar, there’s a certain fluid that can accumulate in the lens inside the eye that controls focusing. The accumulation of this fluid changes the curvature of the lens which is essentially what leads to the blurred vision. When blood sugar levels are controlled then the blurred vision issue will gradually begin to improve. Diabetic patients who know how to better control their sugar intake will see improvements in their health as it will slow the progression of the diabetes as well as the diabetic retinopathy. The early stages of diabetic retinopathy have no obvious symptoms which is why the American Optometric Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination annually. Detection of diabetic retinopathy early on can limit the potential for any significant change in vision loss.
TREATMENT: Treating diabetic retinopathy varies depending on how serious the disease is and how far along that person is. Some people may need to get laser surgery in order to seal the leaking blood vessels. A person’s optometrist might need to inject medications into the eye to help decrease inflammation or to cease the formation of any new blood vessels. For patients with advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy, they will most probably need a surgical procedure to remove and replace the gel-like fluid located in the retina; this is known as the vitreous. Here are a few tips for diabetics in order to aid them in preventing the development of diabetic retinopathy. These tips include: taking prescribed meds, sticking to a clean, healthy diet, regular exercise, controlling high blood pressure, and avoiding both alcohol and smoking.
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