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Diabetes places many at risk of blindness

Media release
27 April 2001

Diabetes places many at risk of blindness

The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind warns there are a significant number of people at risk of severe sight loss because they don’t know they don’t have diabetes.

Chris Inglis, Divisional Manager, Blindness Awareness and Prevention says "This is a tragedy waiting to happen because people with diabetes can develop a complication called diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to severe sight loss."

The Foundation is encouraging New Zealanders to check with their health professional to find out whether or not they have diabetes and for those that do to have regular eye exams.

"The longer a person has diabetes the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy," says Ms Inglis. "But it doesn't only affect people who have had diabetes for many years - it can also appear within the first year or two after the onset of the disease. People with diabetes should also be extremely alert to any change in sight and speak to their health professional as quickly as possible."

Diabetic retinopathy develops when high blood sugar levels weaken blood vessels in the eye’s retina, which can leak blood or fluid. This causes the retina to swell and form deposits that can lead to vision loss. Blood sugar fluctuations can also promote growth of new, fragile blood vessels on the retina, which can break easily and leek blood into the vitreous (the clear, jelly like substance that fills the centre of the eye). This can also blur vision and lead to permanent impairment.

Amongst diabetics, diabetic retinopathy is a very widespread condition. After 20 years, nearly all type one diabetics and up to 60% of type two diabetics will have diabetic retinopathy to some degree.

"According to our Foundation data, the most at risk group are the 90% of Foundation members with diabetic retinopathy over the age of 40 years plus age group," says Ms Inglis. "We urge diabetics to have regular eye exams, seek treatment for high blood pressure and keep their blood sugar levels under good control through diet and exercise."

The Foundation's message comes after today's news that the number of diabetics in New Zealand is rapidly increasing.

The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind offers services to blind and sight-impaired people to help them meet the challenges of sight loss and maintain their independence.


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