CNIB Recommends Diabetics Have Regular Eye Examinations

TORONTO, January 17, 2012 /Canada NewsWire/ - CNIB is stressing the importance of regular eye examinations as part of a diabetic's treatment protocol. This recommendation comes as a result of the 2011 Diabetes in Canada1 report recently released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) which details the importance of eye disease, in particular diabetic retinopathy, as a key complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The report not only showed that the prevalence of diabetes had increased 70% over a 11-year period from 1998/99 to 2008/99, it also stated that in the first 20 years after a diagnosis of diabetes almost all individuals with type 1 diabetes and more than 60 percent with type 2 diabetes develop some form of retinopathy. And, according to results from a 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey only 66 percent of individuals with diabetes obtain regular eye exams.

CNIB's Vice President of Research, Dr Keith Gordon, a member of the Diabetes in Canada editorial board, stresses the importance of regular eye examinations for diabetics:

"Because people with diabetes are at a greater risk for vision loss, it is vitally important that all diabetics visit an eye care professional for regular diagnostic examinations to help detect any early signs of diabetic retinopathy and to monitor any further developments of the disease," says Dr. Gordon.

"There are typically few warning signs of diabetic retinopathy in the early stages and very often, by the time symptoms are noticed by an individual with diabetes, the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage, making successful treatment less likely and the risk of blindness greater," adds Dr. Gordon.

According to the PHAC report, in 2008/09 there were almost 2.4 million Canadians or 6.8 percent of the population living with diabetes. It is estimated that close to 500,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and that approximately 100,000 of these individuals have a vision threatening form of the disease. A CNIB study, conducted in conjunction with the Canadian Ophthalmological Society two years ago2, put the total cost of diabetic retinopathy to the Canadian economy at half a billion dollars.

In diabetic retinopathy, elevated glucose levels in the blood can cause blood vessels in the eye to swell and leak in the retina. New blood vessels may also grow causing further damage. Severe diabetic retinopathy can result in total vision loss. While diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness amongst diabetics, the risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma is also increased in people with diabetes.

"Diabetes affects the organs of the body including the eyes," says Dr. Gordon. "Controlling blood sugars and changing other lifestyle factors can help reduce the risk of developing vision loss due to retinopathy."

Diabetes, a chronic disease that occurs when the body is either unable to sufficiently produce or properly use insulin, can strike at any age. Cathy MacDonald of Sackville, NS was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 4. Despite daily insulin treatment, she began to develop tiny blood vessels in the back of her eyes. Laser treatments to control their growth failed, leading to the development of severe diabetic retinopathy.

After two operations to correct the condition failed, Ms. MacDonald was blind at the age of 27. "If there is a message that I would like to impart, it's that diabetes is very serious and complications do happen," says Ms. MacDonald, who learned firsthand about the long-term effect diabetes can have on internal organs such as the eyes.

Ms. MacDonald relied on services and programs at CNIB to help her regain a sense of independence in her daily activities. She went on to enroll in a local community college, earning a diploma in Human Services. She later married and had a child.

"You can do anything if you put your mind to it," adds Ms. MacDonald.

About CNIB

CNIB is a registered charity, passionately providing community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. To learn more, visit cnib.ca or call the toll-free CNIB Helpline at 1-800-563-2642.