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Extra Focus on Vision for Those with Pre-Diabetes

Diabetes has been called a national epidemic. The sad part: the explosion in the condition has a lot to do with America’s expanding waistline. With diet and lifestyle changes, many people can delay, if not entirely prevent, the disease from taking hold. That means controlling blood sugar levels when they are higher than normal, but not quite into the official diabetes realm. Especially when you've been diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

One of the well-known effects of diabetes is damage to eyes and vision caused by diabetic retinopathy. But a big surprise might be this: early stages of retinopathy can tag along with pre-diabetes. In retinopathy, the delicate blood vessels in the eye swell or bleed. Or they can also grow abnormally on the retina itself. This allows unprocessed blood sugars, fats and proteins to leak out weakened blood vessels. That’s what damages the retina and can cause vision loss.

Dr. Anastasios Fokas, O.D., of Queens, New York City, has seen for himself how quickly eye problems can start with pre-diabetes.

A few months back, he saw a patient who had recently been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. To check for early eye problems, he did a dilated exam. Sure enough, the disease was already at work.

“Right away, I found two tiny spots of blood in the retina of one eye,” he says. “Those blood spots were a sure sign of diabetic retinopathy.”

Finding this early gave the patient a good shot at preventing more damage. “Dietary counseling, exercise and treatments, like laser therapy, can help,” says Dr. Fokas.

Diabetes and Pre-diabetes Facts

  • 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes and most don’t know it
  • Nearly 24 million Americans have diabetes
  • One in four people with diabetes don’t know they have it
  • Diabetes accounts for about 24,000 new cases of vision loss each year
  • Recent research by the U.S. National Eye Institute (NEI) showed that eight % of pre-diabetics were already showing signs of retinopathy
  • Lifestyle risks for diabetes are physical inactivity, poor diet and obesity
  • Diabetes has genetic factors like family history and ethnicity (Black Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders)
  • Other factors: older age; gestational diabetes or a baby weighing more than nine pounds at birth.

Source: VSP