Diabetes the leading cause of vision loss for those under 50

Blindness is a common complication of diabetes that is too often overlooked, despite being the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians under the age of 50.

“Among the many complications associated with diabetes is a group of eye problems collectively known as diabetic eye disease,” said Dr. Keith Gordon, Vice-President, Research, CNIB. “The most commonly diagnosed is an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy – a condition in which elevated blood glucose levels causes blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak and in some cases, prompt new blood vessels to grow.”

If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can progress to uncorrectable vision loss and even blindness.

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In fact, nearly all patients with Type I diabetes and 60 percent of those with Type 2 diabetes will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy within the first 20 years of living with the disease.

This is extremely significant considering more than nine million Canadians live with diabetes or pre-diabetes today – and that number is rapidly growing.

“These statistics are frankly alarming,” said Dr. Gordon. “At present, there are 500,000 Canadians living with some form of diabetic retinopathy, and we expect this number to increase by 61 percent by the year 2031. We have a mounting epidemic on our hands and it cannot be ignored.”

What you need to know is that vision loss resulting from diabetic retinopathy can be avoided. Prevention is two-fold: managing diabetes by controlling blood sugar together with having regular eye examinations by an eye care professional.

“Early detection cannot be stressed enough since diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms – meaning that vision is not negatively affected, nor is there any associated pain,” said Dr. Gordon.

A national survey conducted by CNIB revealed that 50 percent of Canadians who don’t wear eyeglasses have not had their eyes examined in the past five years, if ever. This is cause for concern, particularly for the millions of people living with diabetes.

Vision loss is not life-ending, but it is life changing. It has huge emotional repercussions on individuals, their families and their communities. In the case of diabetes, it is a complication that can be circumvented.

“I’m asking people living with diabetes to care for their eyes the same way they do their blood sugar,” urged Dr. Gordon. “Vision is precious – do not take needless risks. Book an appointment for a complete eye examination today.”

CNIB has a range of resources for people with diabetes and their families including Eye Connect: Diabetic Retinopathy. This one-stop online resource provides a comprehensive overview of risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy, prevention tips, treatments, tools available to you for adapting to vision loss and resources for emotional support.

For more information, visit cnib.ca/dr or join CNIB for a Diabetic Retinopathy information session on November 25th (2:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.) or November 26th (2:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.) at Iroquois Lodge (1755 Chiefswood, Ohsweken). To RSVP, please call Jayne Mitchell-Hill at 519-445-2224.

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