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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to permanent vision loss if not diagnosed and treated on time, say experts

World Health Day will be observed on April 7th across the globe and this year’s theme is ‘Beat Diabetes’. According to statistics from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) more than 300 million people have diabetes in the world, with 37 million people in the MENA region suffering from the disease. This number is expected to rise to 68 million by 2035.

The UAE has one of the highest incidences of diabetes in the world. According to the IDF, there were 803,900 cases of diabetes in the UAE in 2014 alone. “This is definitely a cause for concern, as the condition is linked to complications ranging from heart problems, hypertension, foot and skin complications to nephropathy, stroke, gum disease and blindness,” said Dr. Sanjay Vodela, Specialist Ophthalmologist, Medeor 24X7 Hospital Dubai. “Diabetic retinopathy and macular edema are complications that show up in patients who have suffered from uncontrolled diabetes for more than a year. Diabetic retinopathy is caused when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. These vessels leak fluid and blood into the retina. If closed, they also can stop blood supply to the retina. And if the fluid or blood leaks near the macula — the part of the retina responsible for central vision — it can affect a person’s sight. When fluid leaks into the centre of the macula, it can cause inflammation and blurred vision. This condition is called macular edema.”

Diabetic retinopathy progresses through four stages, and can lead to retinal detachment and permanent vision loss. The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually have no symptoms. The disease often progresses unnoticed until it affects vision. Symptoms of the condition include floaters, fluctuating vision and decreased depth perception, in combination with decreased visual acuity. Symptoms of macular edema include blurred vision,” said Dr Vodela.

Vision lost to diabetic retinopathy is sometimes irreversible. However, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness to a great extent. “People with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year and for those suffering from uncontrolled diabetes they should come in for an exam every three months. People with diabetic retinopathy may need eye exams more frequently. Vision acuity tests, tonometry, optical coherence tomography are part of the diagnostic tests to check for both the conditions. A fluorescein angiogram may also be used to test how far the disease has progressed,” said Dr Vodela.

Treatment for the condition includes focal laser treatments to seal off individual blood vessels in macular edema. Scatter laser treatment is used for advanced retinopathy. Anti-VEGF drug therapy is also prescribed in advanced diabetic changes.

People with diabetes are also more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as are non-diabetics. “Preventive measures are crucial in avoiding eye diseases. Controlling diabetes by taking medications as prescribed, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet can prevent, or delay vision loss,” said Dr. Vodela.

Dr. Mohamed Berer, Medical Director at Medeor 24×7 Hospital, Dubai said, “At Medeor 24×7 Hospital, we advocate the importance of spreading awareness about the disease in the community. We are committed to providing state-of-the-art infrastructure complemented by quality healthcare from some of the region’s most experienced Ophthalmologists to help diabetic patients suffering from eye related complications.”

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