Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism, in which the body is unable to regulate its blood glucose levels appropriately. Glucose, a simple sugar, comes from the carbohydrates that you eat. Your body synthesizes and stores glucose, which it then uses as a major source of energy. For glucose to get into cells, insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, must be present. In people with diabetes, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the body cells do not respond to the insulin that it produces. As a result, glucose can't get into the cells of the body and glucose levels in the blood become elevated. Over time the high blood sugar levels damage many organs of the body.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing diabetes. People who have close family members with diabetes and people who are overweight have a greater chance of developing diabetes. Also, the risk of diabetes is increased in some ethnic groups including people who are African-American, Latino American or Native American. Other factors that may increase the risk of diabetes include high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol).
Symptoms of high blood sugar include increased thirst and urination, blurred vision, fatigue and weight loss. In some individuals, the elevated blood sugar may lead to recurrent infections such as urinary tract infection, vaginal yeast infection, or infections of the skin. However, many individuals with diabetes may go for many years without symptoms. For that reason, it is recommended that all adults age 45 and above should be tested for diabetes every three years.
Individuals with diabetes are at risk for complications that may affect the eyes, kidneys, nerves and circulatory system. Managing diabetes requires that each patient establish goals of therapy that include target blood sugar range, weight management, and dietary and lifestyle changes. Comprehensive treatment of diabetes requires a team approach involving patients as well as health care providers comprising an endocrinologist, the diabetes educator, nutritionist, ophthalmologist, and podiatrist.
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the disease. All can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. The most common form of diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in adults, and nearly half of people with diabetes will develop some degree of this disease during their lifetime. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina that can lead to blindness.
If you have diabetes, you should have your eyes examined at least once a year. Your eyes should be dilated during the exam so that your ophthalmologist can see more clearly the insides of the eye in order to detect signs of the disease.
Diabetic eye disease can be treated. Your ophthalmologist may suggest laser eye surgery, which has been proven to reduce the risk of severe vision loss.