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Diabetes Awareness Month

Diabetes Awareness Month

Diabetic Retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in the US. Since the majority of patients that have diabetes or are pre-diabetic do not know they have the condition, it is important to raise awareness about this disease. What better time to do that than in November, which is Diabetes Awareness Month.

Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a systemic disease, which is caused by high levels of sugar in the blood. The disease is subdivided into two types, Type 1, or Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus, and Type 2, or Adult Onset Diabetes Mellitus. Those with type 1 DM have a genetic mutation which prevents their body from producing insulin, which is the hormone that regulates the uptake of blood glucose into the liver, where it is stored until necessary again. These individuals must take insulin in order to maintain a normal blood sugar level. Type 2 DM, which is the more common of the two (about 90% of diabetic cases), the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or it becomes resistant to insulin. Those with Type 2 DM have a genetic predisposition to this disease and it runs in their family. Not being physically active, being overweight, and having a poor diet all play major roles in making someone more susceptible to the disease.

Some of the symptoms of diabetes are:

Increased Thirst and Urination
Increased Hunger
Blurred Vision
Numbness or Tingling in Hands or Feet
Poor Wound Healing
Unexplained Weight Loss

Once diagnosed, those with Type 1 DM are treated with insulin and those with Type 2 DM depending on their initial blood sugar levels, may be told to control with diet and exercise, or may have to use oral medications or insulin if the blood sugar levels are too high. If the condition is left untreated too long, smaller blood vessels, more specifically the veins, become damaged and leaky. Due to the size of the veins in the retina, the back part of the eyes, and the kidneys, these are the first two parts of the body affected by diabetes. Usually the longer someone has been affected by diabetes, the higher the chances that they will have complications due to it.

Diabetic Retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in the retina become damaged. The early stages of the condition is called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. This means there are some irregularities to the formation of the veins and can sometimes cause leaking fluid and blood into the retina. This usually does not cause any vision changes, unless the macula, central part of the retina, is affected. If there is swelling in the macula, the vision will be distorted. As the condition advances, it leads to proliferative diabetic retinopathy, where the damaged blood vessels close off and new blood vessels form. However, these new blood vessels are not the same as the original retinal vessels and can be more fragile. These complications can lead to retinal detachment and glaucoma and eventually blindness.

Anyone that has been diagnosed with diabetes should have an annual dilated eye exam. For anyone with a family history of diabetes, they should also be examined by an optometrist annually, since that is how certain cases of diabetes are detected.

Start taking care of your eye health today!