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Vision loss due to diabetes is rising – new study

Published: 2 September 2016 at 15:30

Prof Rupert Bourne

Research finds sight loss due to diabetic retinopathy increased substantially over past 20 years

Vision loss as a result of diabetes has risen dramatically since 1990, according to research co-authored by Professor Rupert Bourne of Anglia Ruskin University and published by the journal Diabetes Care.

The Vision Loss Expert Group, part of the Global Burden of Disease Study which is comparing health outcomes from 1990 to 2010, found that instances of blindness as a result of diabetes rose worldwide by 27%, with instances of visual impairment up 64% in the 20-year period.

These figures equate to one in every 39 people who are blind and one in 52 people who have moderate or severe vision impairment across the world as a direct result of diabetic retinopathy. This is a complication of diabetes where the delicate blood vessels in the retina become damaged and start leaking, distorting vision. In its most advanced stage, new abnormal blood vessels grow, damaging the retina and leading to permanent scarring and vision impairment or blindness.

The group examined data from studies carried out in countries all over the world between 1990 and 2010. The regions of the world with most numbers of people visually impaired by diabetic retinopathy was highest in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and West Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people blind due to diabetic retinopathy remained highest in South East Asia, East Asia, and North Africa and the Middle East.

The research, published this week, concluded that the number of people suffering visual impairment as a result of diabetic retinopathy is rising and makes up an increasing proportion of all blindness and visual impairment causes.

Western Europe and North America were the only two regions to show a slight decrease in blindness due to diabetic retinopathy. The report said this may reflect the effect of intensified prevention and treatment, including the use of steroids and anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs. 

Professor Bourne, Associate Director of the Vision and Eye Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“Diabetes has now become one of the top causes of vision loss around the world. Poor control of glucose levels, and lack of access to eye health services in many parts of the world are thought to contribute to this rise.

“With the alarming prevalence of vision loss due to diabetes rising more than two-thirds in the last 20 years, the precipitous global epidemic of diabetes must be addressed.”

The Vision Loss Expert Group is a global collaboration of 79 ophthalmologists and optometrists, led by Professor Bourne. The study was partly funded by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, Fight for Sight, the Fred Hollows Foundation, and the Brien Holden Vision Institute.