Thousands of young people with diabetes could go blind before the age of 40
A survey, presented today at the Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference (APC), shows that one in three people with type 1 diabetes aged between 18 and 30 already has retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness in later life.(1)
Although retinopathy, a condition affecting the blood vessels supplying the retina, can be treated successfully if caught early, some of the young people in the study had already reached advanced stages of the disease.
These worrying findings raise the issue of inadequate access to retinal screening. Recent statistics have shown that 26% of young people with diabetes aged between 12 and 17 haven't been screened for retinopathy in the last 12 months.(2) Official government guidelines state that all young people with diabetes should receive a yearly screening from the age of 12.
The study of 103 young adults, conducted by researchers in Norwich, also shows a correlation between people not attending their clinic appointments and increased risk of developing retinopathy: 54.3% of those who showed signs of the complication had a history of nonattendance. This raises fears that the current services do not meet the specific needs of young people making them "drop out" of their diabetes clinics.
Teenagers are already more likely to find it difficult to control their blood glucose levels as the various physical changes of puberty can make them more insulin resistant. Poorly controlled diabetes leaves them at increased risk of developing the various complications of diabetes, including retinopathy.
Lead researcher Dr Ritesh Rampure said, "Retinopathy is a common complication in people with diabetes but seeing such widespread signs of the disease in such young adults is alarming ... We need to address the issue of nonattendance to stop people from losing their sight needlessly."
Douglas Smallwood, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK added, "There is also a critical need for services to be more targeted around the specific needs of young people with diabetes in order to make the transition between paediatric and adult care smoother. We also need to improve access to structured education and more research is needed to look into the possible benefits of screening children at an earlier age."
Another study,(3) also presented today at the Diabetes UK APC, shows that people with diabetes from a South Asian background are more likely to show signs of retinopathy than white people, with 16.4% showing signs of sight-threatening retinopathy compared with 12.5%. They are also developing the condition earlier, on average 7.8 years after diagnosis compared to 9.1 years.
1. Rampure RJ, Myint TH, Darkins A, Greenwood RH, Temple RC. Retinopathy in young adults with diabetes. Poster presented at the Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference 2007; P210. 2. State of the Nations report. London: Diabetes UK; January 2007. 3. Varadhan L, Ullah Z, Reynold DR, et al. Higher prevalence diabetic retinopathy in South Asians compared to Caucasians: a substudy from UKADS (United Kingdom Asian Diabetes Study). Oral session presented at the Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference 2007; A43.