Blog post by: Eye Physicians of Long Beach

A recent study published in the July, 2014 issue of the Journal of Diabetic Complications evaluated the connection between diabetic retinopathy and other severe diabetic health risks, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. The ACCORD (Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes trial was a large clinical trial of adults with established type 2 diabetes who were at especially high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This study provided longitudinal data to evaluate the value of the onset of diabetic retinopathy in predicting the risk of heart disease and kidney disease.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common issue that can arise from type 2 diabetes. This diabetic complication causes damage to the retina, which is the light sensitive area of the eye that enables signals to be sent to the brain. Initially, Diabetic retinopathy can present without symptoms. By damaging the blood vessels of the retina, diabetic retinopathy can later produce blurred vision and can also potentially progress to complete blindness.

The ACCORD trials indicated that patients with diabetic retinopathy are at higher risks for other vascular issues. They found that the worse the diabetic retinopathy, the more likely it is to have renal and heart problems. Renal and cardiovascular events were noted to happen with similar frequencies for each level of diabetic retinopathy. This information enables those treating diabetes patients to understand related health issues and watch for warning signs of correlated diseases. It also means that diabetic eye exams can do more than monitor the eyes alone. They can help physicians and patients decide the risk of heart and kidney disease.

The American Diabetes Association has also published study results linking diabetic retinopathy with an advanced risk of cardiovascular events. Of their study’s 2,237 participants, ranging in age from 15 to 60, 64 patients died during the study and 128 had a non-fatal cardiovascular event. This demonstrated a risk of approximately double the normal risk of cardiovascular event in diabetic retinopathy sufferers.

The vascular connection was also made in looking at patients’ risk of renal failure or kidney disease. The presence of diabetic retinopathy was found to be a strong indicator of renal system issues that could lead to serious complications.

With the same diabetes risk factors leading to retinopathy, cardiovascular events, and chronic kidney disease, the presence of diabetic retinopathy should indicate the need to evaluate other systems. The vascular problems related to diabetes that cause retinopathy can also cause cardiovascular and renal health problems that can potentially become fatal.

Knowledge of the correlation between diabetic retinopathy and other health issues can help those suffering from diabetes. Watching for early warning signs and controlling lifestyle choices that can increase risk can save lives and increase quality of life for diabetes patients.

The degree of retinopathy is equally predictive for renal and macrovascular outcomes in the ACCORD Trial. Mottl AK, Pajewski N, Fonseca V, Ismail-Beigi F, Chew E, Ambrosius WT, Greven C, Schubart U, Buse J. J Diabetes Complications. 2014 Jul 12.