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More reasons not to postpone your eye exam

September 4, 2012 in News

Diabetic retinopathy, damage to the retinas caused by high blood sugar that can cause vision loss, is a major concern for all persons with diabetes. Getting an eye exam is a vital part of routine health care if you have diabetes, and newly published research suggests that retinopathy is not the only concern.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, have identified an association between type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of certain types of cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye which can lead to vision impairment and blindness.

The researchers analyzed information from 6,400 patients seen at the University’s optometry clinic between 2007 and 2008. They were looking not only at the relationship between type 2 diabetes and cataracts, but also at the relationship between cataracts and a class of drug called statins. Statins are used to help lower cholesterol. Both diabetes and statins have been thought to be associated with a higher risk for developing cataracts in past.

Statins are frequently prescribed to patients with type 2 diabetes. In the study, 56% of the 452 participants with type 2 were taking statins for cholesterol management.

After the researchers adjusted their findings to account for differences such as sex, high blood pressure, and smoking, their results indicated that type 2 diabetes was associated with an 82% increase in the risk of developing cataracts, as compared to those patients without diabetes. Taking statins was also associated with a similarly significant increase in risk, regardless of whether they were taken by diabetics or not.

The risk increases associated with type 2 diabetes and statins were similar, but it appears that each risk factor is tied to certain types of cataracts. Study results showed that posterior sub capsular cataracts, long thought to be linked to type 2 diabetes, were actually associated more strongly with statin exposure than to diabetes.

Patients with type 2 diabetes who were also taking statins showed the fastest increase in the risk of developing cataracts, especially if they were older. These individuals developed cataracts an average of 5.6 years earlier than those with type 2 diabetes who were not taking cataracts. The slowest risk increase was among those patients who were not taking statins and were not diabetic.

It’s very important to remember that there is much more research to be done before any firm conclusions are made. Dr. Carolyn Machan, OD, one of the study authors, pointed out that while statin use may increase your risk for developing cataracts if you have type 2 diabetes, the benefits to be gained from treatment with statins are probably worth the risk. If you’re currently taking statins, it’s worth discussing the research findings with your doctor, but very important to listen to her or his recommendations and keep taking all of your medications as prescribed.

The best steps you can take to deal with your potential risk for cataracts are to continue working with your health care team to manage your diabetes, and to make sure that you are diligent about scheduling and attending your regular eye exams. Most cataracts are treatable with surgery if they significantly interfere with vision, but as with most conditions, early detection gives you the best possible range of treatment options.

You can learn more about cataracts, their symptoms, and possible treatments through the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The source for this article can be found at Medical News Today.


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