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12/21/2009 - Articles

Diabetes increases risk of eye problems

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


People with diabetes are known to be at risk of retinopathy. A new study shows they are also more likely to have eye disease of any kind. Around 11 percent of those with diabetes had eye problems, compared to just six percent of those without diabetes.

Diabetes increases risk of eye problems

Summarized by Susan Aldridge, PhD, medical journalist
October 24, 2008


Poorly managed diabetes is already known to increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy. A new study based on the United States population reveals how diabetes increases the risk of eye disease of all kinds. Those with diabetes are twice as likely to have an eye problem as those without. Therefore, regular eye exams are essential if you happen to have diabetes to help prevent vision loss.


The latest figures suggest that around 15 million Americans have diagnosed diabetes and another six million may have undiagnosed disease. It's a condition on the increase, with figures expected to reach about 50 million by 2050. One of the main complications of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which is a major cause of blindness and low vision. Control of diabetes has, fortunately, led to a decrease in the incidence of diabetic retinopathy. However, diabetes is also linked to other visual problems, like glaucoma and cataract.

What was done

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, United States, carried out an analysis based upon the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They looked at visual impairment, both correctable and uncorrectable, among those with and without diabetes. The study covered 1,237 adults of average age 59 with diabetes and 11,767 adults without the disease. The researchers measured visual acuity both with and without any glasses or contact lenses worn by the participants.

What was found

Around 11 percent of those with diabetes proved to have some form of visual impairment of which 3.8 percent were uncorrectable disorders and the rest correctable. But only 5.9 percent of those without diabetes had an eye problem, of which 1.4 percent were incorrectable and the rest correctable.

What this study means

Diabetes leads to eye problems of all kinds, not just diabetic retinopathy. The higher incidence of visual impairment among those with diabetes suggest that regular eye exams are crucial. Some of the problems are correctable, so early intervention with treatment might help. Even when the problem is not correctable, an early diagnosis can help provide the patient with necessary support and information.


  • Zhang X, Gregg EW et al Archives of Ophthalmology October 2008; 126: 1421-1427


Created on: 10/24/2008
Reviewed on: 12/21/2009

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