It's official it is November. That means snow is on the mountains (soon to be streets) and it is Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes is a serious systemic disease that has an impact on the entire body; it is also more common than people realize. The Center for Disease Control estimated that in 2015 30.3 million people in the United States had diabetes. That is almost ten percent of the population of the United States!
It is also alarming that diabetes can be thought of nonchalantly by patients who have diabetes. Far too often in a clinical setting providers hear that patients don't monitor their blood glucose, monitor their diet, seek regular care, etc. While these things seem minor it could really be detrimental to a patient's overall health. Keep in mind that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. This month let's work to increase awareness of diabetes and be more proactive about diabetic health.
So why are eye-care providers concerned about diabetes? Well, diabetes effects the eye. An interesting fact is that diabetic eye disease can be present without any notable symptoms to the patient. In 2016 the American Optometric Association found that over three hundred thousand individuals were diagnosed with diabetes following their annual eye examination where abnormal ocular findings were noted. The United States is having an increase in diabetic patients and therefore the amount of diabetic eye disease is expected to increase within a few years. In many uncontrolled cases diabetes leads to blindness and irreversible vision loss. There are a lot of ocular structures that are affected with diabetes (please see our previous diabetes blog). The best ways to help maintain ocular health for patients with diabetes is as follows:
Maintain stable and healthy blood glucose levels: Stability is key when it comes to healthy eyes with diabetes. Fluctuating glucose levels can lead to weakening of retinal blood vessels, which leads to retinopathy and it can also cause early cataract formation. When the lens changes a patient's refractive status can change as well. That is why people with uncontrolled diabetes can have fluctuating vision. Stability in blood glucose can help achieve stability in ocular health and vision.
Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels: Unfortunately when one aspect of health changes people are more likely to have other systemic changes. Patients with diabetes are more susceptible to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) or hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). High blood pressure and high cholesterol on their own can have detrimental effects on the eye.
Have annual dilated eye examinations: Dilated eye examinations are imperative to determine if ocular health has been maintained. Dilation also give insight to overall systemic health. If ocular vasculature is leaking it demonstrates that other vessels within the body are having difficulties. For the record retinal photography does not replace dilation. While a retinal photograph is encouraged to have on file to monitor ocular changes it does not replace dilation. Every year when you see your eye care provider plan accordingly!
Establish a diabetes team: Diabetes effects many aspects of the body so it is important to incorporate multiple health care providers. Talk to your primary care provider about the most appropriate sub-specialties. Make sure that list includes an eye-care provider.
Lead a healthy lifestyle: Things that you do for your body are good for your eyes and things that are bad for you are bad for your body. Smoking increases risks of macular degeneration, early cataract formation, etc. Alternatively eating a diet rich in vegetables (no, not potatoes) can help protect the macula. Putting your health first actually can help many aspects of your body.
We know that diabetes can impact our eyes but many people don't realize how much diabetes can hurt our wallets. According to the CDC the average annual cost for people diagnosed with diabetes was found to be $13,700. That is not an insignificant amount. Whether health reasons or monetary reasons drive peoples decision making either way it makes sense to get on top of controlling diabetes and making smart health choices.
This November is Diabetes Awareness Month, be proactive and make good decisions about diabetes!
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