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A new study finds a quarter of people with diabetes have retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels in the retina are damaged.

About 9.6 million people in the U.S. have diabetic retinopathy.

​​Diabetes is a medical condition and it impacts 37.3 million Americans, or about 1 in 10 people according to the CDC Trusted Source.

However, the impact of diabetes doesn’t stop with just poor blood sugar control. It can also affect many other organs in the body including the eyes, resulting in a condition called diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy Trusted Source is when blood vessels in the retina are damaged and can result in blindness or vision loss.

Newly released data published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology Trusted Source shows that past estimates were incorrect and the prevalence of this vision loss condition is much higher than previously believed.

What researchers found


The researchers in this study used data from the CDC’s Vision and Eye Health Surveillance System as well as data from the US Census Bureau.

For 2021, the research team estimated that approximately 9.6 million people had diabetic retinopathy. This makes up 26.43% of all individuals who have diabetes.

Of the 9.6 million people with diabetic retinopathy, they estimate that approximately 5%, or 1.84 million people, have vision-threatening forms of diabetic retinopathy.

The experts also found that those who were of Hispanic and black descent had a higher prevalence of vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy.

The research team also notes that the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy and vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy increased substantially with age, it decreased in older age groups. Researchers relate this to people with more severe diabetes who tend to have earlier mortality.

“Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes in the main factor responsible for development and progression of diabetic retinopathy. Lack of screening until advanced changes have occurred can lead to visual impairment and even blindness among young patients in the peak working age of their career,” said Dr. Sapna Gangaputra , an assistant professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Science at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

How diabetes can affect vision

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body changes food into energy.

In people who do not have diabetes, when the body breaks down food it turns some of it into sugar, or glucose. This glucose is then released into the bloodstream and the pancreas creates insulin to regulate the amount of sugar you have in your body.

However, in people with diabetes, the body does not use insulin efficiently, or in some situations, the body doesn’t make enough insulin. When the sugar levels get too high in the body, it can have life-threatening complications such as increasing one’s risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, pregnancy loss and even vision loss.

When blood sugar levels are too high or uncontrolled, it can damage the eyes in a condition called diabetic retinopathy.

“Diabetic retinopathy is changes are caused due to changes in the microscopic blood vessels of the eye,” said Gangaputra.

In this condition, the blood vessels and nerves that go to the retina of the eye are affected. It causes the blood vessels to sometimes swell or even leak blood or fluid into the eye.

Different types of diabetic retinopathy

There are two major forms of diabetic retinopathy.

Non-proliferative retinopathy is the early stage of this condition where the swelling and leaking of blood vessels cause swelling of the retina. This results in some vision loss or blurriness but tends to be treatable, particularly in the early stages of the disease.

Proliferative retinopathy is a more advanced stage where because of the lack of blood flow, new blood vessels begin to form. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels often bleed resulting in either the sensation of seeing ‘floaters’ if it is a mild case, or complete vision loss if it is a more severe case of bleeding.

How to identify signs of the condition

Not all individuals with diabetic retinopathy know they have this condition.

“Complications such as diabetic retinopathy can present with well controlled diabetes after decades; however, this is much more likely to happen with poor blood sugar control. Patients need to understand the importance of control at time of diagnosis to decrease their chances of complications later on in their life.

Oftentimes, in the early stages, there are no symptoms at all. It is is recommended that people with diabetes get routine eye testing to ensure the health of their vision.

“Early changes do not affect vision; however they can be used as a marker to advise the patient and primary care provider or endocrinologist so they can modify the diabetes regimen and better control blood sugar.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there can be an array of symptoms. Those individuals with diabetic retinopathy often complain of blurry vision, vision changing between blurry and clear, seeing an increased number of floaters, poor night vision, having vision that seems faded or even washed out, or even losing their vision entirely.


Aman k. Kashyap

I am a hard-working and driven medical student who isn't afraid to face any challenge. I'm passionate about my work . I would describe myself as an open and honest person who doesn't believe in misleading other people and tries to be fair in everything I do.

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