Today's Better Diabetic Eyes

Diabetic retinopathy may have become less severe in recent years

December 10, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Type 1 diabetes can cause serious damage to your eyes. Fortunately, there has been much progress over the years in the prevention and treatment of eye damage caused by diabetes, or diabetic retinopathy.

A recent study showed that diabetic retinopathy may not be as severe for patients today than it was for those a few decades ago.

"Get regular eye exams if you have diabetes."

Mari Palta, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, looked at patients with type 1 diabetes over a 20 year period who participated in two different studies.

While patients in both studies were from the same geographic area, those from one study were diagnosed 8 to 34 years earlier than those in the other study. This gave the researchers the opportunity to study changes in complications.

The first study - called the Wisconsin Epidemiologic Study of Diabetic Retinopathy (WESDR) - was conducted between 1980 and 1996. The second study - called the Wisconsin Diabetes Registry Study (WDRS) - was conducted during 2007 to 2011.

Dr. Palta and colleagues found that vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy was less common among patients in the more recent WDRS than in the WESDR. That is, patients today with diabetic retinopathy may be less likely to have serious sight problems or blindness.

Results showed that 18 percent of WDRS patients had vision-threatening levels of retinopathy, compared to 43 percent of WESDR patients. Patients in the WESDR had about 2.2 to 3.0 times the odds of severe retinopathy.

These differences may have something to do with recent advances in diabetes medications and blood sugar control. In other words, blood sugar levels may partly explain the differences.

Patients in the WDRS had lower levels of HbA1c (a measure of blood sugar over time) than those in the WESDR. Specifically, WDRS patients had an HbA1c of about 8 percent, compared to 9.3 percent among WESDR patients.

According to the study's authors, doctors should use these updated findings when talking to their newly diagnosed patients about the likely course of their disease and the healthcare costs associated with treatment.

The current study included 305 patients from the WDRS and 583 patients from the WESDR. The research was published November 27 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.