Diabetes is dangerous not only to your overall health, but also to the health of your eyes. Diabetes increases your risk for glaucoma and cataracts, and may trigger diabetic retinopathy. Here, experienced ophthalmologist Dr. Jay Schwartz of Phoenix-area Schwartz Laser Eye Center outlines effective strategies to prevent diabetic retinopathy by addressing diabetes and obesity.
It is important to identify and treat diabetic retinopathy in its earliest stages. High sugar levels associated with this condition cause blood vessels within the retina to swell, lose integrity and sometimes stop functioning altogether. Without medical intervention, the retina may actually begin to grow new blood vessels, which can leak blood into the eye’s vitreous fluid. The new vessels can also form scar tissue that may lead to the development of a detached retina. The end result of all of these changes is often the partial or complete loss of eyesight.
The best way to prevent and detect diabetic retinopathy is to treat the root cause — diabetes. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 10 percent or less of all cases of the disease, and is usually caused by genetic factors or autoimmune disease. Type 2 diabetes occurs when excess weight raises glucose levels in the blood, triggering insulin resistance in the body. Ultimately the pancreas weakens as it struggles to produce enough insulin to overwhelm this resistance.
Although type 2 diabetes sometimes has a genetic component, your likelihood of developing it is strongly linked with your weight and level of physical activity. If you are obese, your risk of developing the condition is three to seven times greater than it is for persons of normal weight.
Evidence of the strong correlation between obesity and type 2 diabetes is demonstrated by the fact that when type 2 diabetics slim down and become more active, their diabetes either dramatically improves or disappears entirely.
There are surgical options to shrink or mitigate damage to leaky blood vessels, and a number of medications that may improve symptoms. Avastin, Eylea, and Lucentis are medications that are injected directly into the eye, and may reduce internal swelling and slow the progression of the disease. Injectable steroids are also sometimes used.
The most effective treatment strategies involve lowering blood pressure and reducing weight. A modest initial goal is to lose 10 percent of excess weight, which will immediately take some of the strain off the pancreas.
While lowering overall food intake is important, reducing the proportion of complex carbohydrates will further help lower blood sugar, as these carbohydrate-dense foods stimulate greater insulin production in the body. This not only puts more pressure on the pancreas, but greater concentrations of insulin in the blood tend to raise body weight, creating a dangerous cycle of rising glucose, insulin and weight.
There is also some evidence that boosting the amount of fiber you consume helps your system more effectively manage blood glucose, as does regular, vigorous exercise.
If you would like to learn more about diabetes and eye health, we invite you to schedule a personal consultation with skilled ophthalmologist Dr. Jay Schwartz at his Phoenix, Glendale or Scottsdale office by calling or emailing Schwartz Laser Eye Center today.