What is Diabetes?
Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic disorder characterized by lack of insulin secretion and/or increased cellular resistance to insulin in the body. Diabetes can result in complications involving the eyes, kidneys, cardiovascular system, and nervous system.
The Two Types of Diabetes
Type 1—also known as insulin dependent diabetes, accounts for 10% of all patients with diabetes in the United States. This type of diabetes results in the destruction of the islet cells in the pancreas, which is responsible for insulin production. This type of diabetes can occur at any age, but typically is more common in those under 30 years old. Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes include: excessive hunger, excessive thirst, excessive urination, unexplained weight loss, dry mouth, leg cramps or pains, delayed healing of skin wounds, and recurrent infections of the skin, genitalia, or urinary tract.
Type 2—also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, accounts for 90% of all diabetics in the US. Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by a resistance of body tissues to the action of insulin. It typically occurs in adults over the age of 40, but is also on the rise in children in the past few years. Most Type 2 diabetics have no symptoms, and therefore, frequently go undiagnosed for years. Risk factors for this type of diabetes include, cardiovascular disease, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity.
Diabetic Eye Disease—Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic Eye Disease is an end-organ response to a generalized medical condition. Diabetic Retinopathy is the most serious sight-threatening complication of diabetes, although, diabetes has been shown to cause an increased risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and refractive error changes (near-sightedness). Diabetic Retinopathy is characterized by blood vessel changes, swelling, leakage and/or hemorrhaging within the retina.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working age Americans today. At least 50,000 Americans are legally blind from this condition. Although Diabetic Retinopathy is not preventable or curable, many cases of blindness may be avoided due to advances in the management of Diabetic Retinopathy. Early diagnosis and long-term, consistent follow up evaluations are essential for effective treatment, and can significantly lower the risk of blindness.
Recommended Eye Examinations
All newly diagnosed diabetics should have a comprehensive, dilated eye examination immediately. In the absence of any diabetic eye disease, annual eye examinations are recommended. Depending on the level of retinopathy, you may need to be seen by your eye doctor more frequently, in order to monitor for progression of the disease.