Severe Diabetic Retinopathy Linked to Cardiovascular Risk
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Severe Diabetic Retinopathy Linked to Cardiovascular Risk


This year, the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) held their annual meeting online. Many leaders in the field, such as Dr. Bobeck Modjtahedi, MD, attended to present new research in the ophthalmologic field. According to Medscape, Dr. Modjtahedi explained that there is a connection between severe diabetic retinopathy and the development of cardiovascular issues, such as heart attack or stroke.

The Research

In prior studies, research has shown that examining the retina highlights potential cardiovascular changes. However, these studies did not explain whether the progression of retinopathy led to a higher risk of cardiovascular damage. Alongside his research team, Dr. Modjtahedi analyzed data from 68,206 patients with type 2 diabetes to determine how many strokes, heart attacks, or instances of death occurred within 5 years of being evaluated for, or diagnosed with, diabetic retinopathy. However, any patients with a history of these events were not used in this study.

Of the patients, 2.5% experienced heart attacks, 3.3% experienced strokes, and 5.5% died within the evaluation period. Even when considering other factors such as age, insulin utilization, body mass index (BMI), sex, and race, there was still a clear relationship between cardiovascular risk and severe diabetic retinopathy. Says Dr. Modjtahedi:

“What I see in your eyes is a reflection of other damage probably building in your kidney and heart.”

As a result, he encourages patients with diabetes to frequently see their eye doctors and PCPs. Moving forward, Dr. Modjtahedi and other researchers hope that furthering this research will provide additional insight into potential treatment options for patients. Additionally, they wonder whether the same results are true for patients with type 1 diabetes.

Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), diabetic retinopathy is a diabetic complication affecting the eyes. It occurs when:

high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell and leak, [close and stop] blood from passing through, [or grow abnormally] on the retina.

As a result, this condition can lead to vision loss. Generally, diabetic retinopathy first begins as non-proliferative (NPDR). During this period, tiny blood vessels may leak and cause the retina to swell. This is known as macular edema. Conversely, blood vessels may close off, preventing blood from reaching the macula. This is called macular ischemia. In either case, patients may experience blurry vision or vision loss.

When NPDR progresses, it leads to proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). At this point, the retina goes through a process called neovascularization. In this period, the retina begins growing fragile new blood vessels. However, when these bleed into the vitreous body, it can cause floaters, vision blockages, scar tissue, and detached retina.

Symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Vision that alternates between clear and blurry
  • Poor night vision
  • Increasing floaters
  • Loss of ability to see color
  • Dark areas in vision

Learn more about diabetic retinopathy here.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.