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SEI to offer free screening

There are approximately 29 million Americans age 20 and older who have diabetes and almost one third of those are at risk for vision loss because they do not know they have the disease.
“This is a tragedy waiting to happen because people with diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative disease of the retina (the sensitive area at the back of the eye), which affects 5.3 million Americans age 18 and older,” said Esther Bowie, M.D., a retina specialist at MUSC Storm Eye Institute (SEI).
As part of November’s Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, ophthalmologists are urging Americans with diabetes to get a dilated eye exam this year. Pregnant women with diabetes should have an eye exam in the first trimester, since diabetic eye disease can progress rapidly during pregnancy.
The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. However, diabetic retinopathy does not 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. For some people, diabetic retinopathy is one of the first signs of the disease.
High blood sugar levels can weaken blood vessels in the eye’s retina causing them to leak blood or fluid. This causes the retina to swell and 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 leak blood into the vitreous (the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye.) This can blur vision and lead to permanent vision impairment. High blood pressure and smoking can further damage blood vessels as well.
“In the presence of diabetic retinopathy, elevated blood pressure can decrease vision due to increased leakage of fragile blood vessels. Controlling blood pressure can reverse these changes. Blood pressure and blood glucose control is essential in diabetes management,” said Narendra Patel, M.D., also a retina specialist at SEI.
What are the signs to look for? Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can temporarily affect vision, so it’s sometimes difficult to know if a serious eye problem is developing. That’s one of the reasons strict control of your blood sugar is so important. If you notice a vision change in one eye, a change that lasts more than a day or two or changes not associated with fluctuations in blood sugar, call your eye doctor promptly.
If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, said Carolyn Cavanaugh, R.N., be sure to schedule a complete dilated eye exam once a year or as often as your eye doctor suggests. Don’t smoke and keep your blood sugar under control through diet and exercise.
SEI is offering a free diabetic retinopathy screening Nov. 13 by appointment. Call MUSC Health Connection at 792-1414.

Friday, Nov. 6, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.