03/29/2010 - Articles

Diabetic retinopathy affects over 5 million Americans

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Diabetic retinopathy is the abnormal growth of tiny blood vessels on the surface of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. As the name suggests, diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and it will affect nearly 60% of patients with the condition. According to Thomas C. Lee, director of the Retina Institute in The Vision Center at the Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, there are 5.3 million adults in the United States who have diabetic retinopathy at the moment. And 24,000 of them will lose their sight because of diabetic retinopathy.

What can be done if you have diabetic retinopathy? If diagnosed and treated properly, the damage can be limited. Laser surgery and follow-up may do much to prevent blindness in a patient with diabetic retinopathy. In scatter laser treatment, 1,000 to 2,000 tiny laser burns are placed in specific areas of the retina. It may sound scary, but in fact the laser lesions shrink the abnormal blood vessels and help retain retinal function.

Dr Lee warns that many people with diabetes are losing their sight unnecessarily, for the signs of diabetic retinopathy can be hard to detect in the early stages. That is why your annual eye exam is so important if you have diabetes or are at risk of it. The figures on diabetic retinopathy highlight just one aspect of the growing public health problem of diabetes. There are around 21 million people with diabetes in the United States, of whom six million are not aware of their condition. The rate of new cases of diabetes is actually decreasing among the white population, but it is rising dramatically among Hispanics. Nearly half of the Hispanic population will have diabetes by the year 2050 if nothing is done to prevent it.



Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 12th February 2010


Created on: 03/29/2010
Reviewed on: 03/29/2010

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