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Beware, Eye Disease In People With Diabetes Tied To Risk Of Dying

In adults with type 2 diabetes, retinopathy is associated with an increased risk of dying within a given period of time, independent of glucose control, a study shows. Retinopathy arises when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. It can lead to blurred vision and blindness if unchecked.

Dr. Markku Laakso, from the University of Kuopio in Finland, and colleagues compared the outcomes of 425 men and 399 women with type 2 diabetes who were divided into three groups based on results of eye exams: no retinopathy, background (early) retinopathy, or more advanced "proliferative" retinopathy. All of the subjects were free from heart and vascular disease initially. They were followed for 18 years.

In women, proliferative retinopathy was associated with a 2.9-fold increased risk of death from all causes. In women, this type of retinopathy was also associated with a 3-fold increased risk of cardiovascular death and a nearly 5-fold increased risk of coronary heart disease death.

Risks for death were also elevated, albeit to a lesser extent, in women with background retinopathy.

In men, proliferative retinopathy was significantly associated with death, increasing the risks of all-cause, cardiovascular, and coronary heart disease mortality by 3.05-, 3.32-, and 2.54-fold, respectively.

The association between retinopathy and mortality was independent not only of conventional cardiovascular disease risk factors but also of blood sugar control and duration of diabetes, the authors note.

Diabetes Care, February 2007.