A country blinded by diabetes - Opinion-editorial for World Diabetes Day campaign by Dr. Keith Gordon

Dr. Keith Gordon is CNIB's vice-president of research (CNW Group/CNIB)

Note to editors: World Diabetes Day is November 14, 2012.  Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss amongst Canadians under 50 years of age. 500,000 Canadians are living with some form of this condition and this figure is expected to increase by 61 per cent in the next 20 years.

TORONTO, Nov. 13, 2012 /CNW/ - The diabetes epidemic in this country is a subject upon which much ink has been spilled. An astonishing nine million Canadians are living today with diabetes or pre-diabetes - a number that has risen sharply in recent years, creating a major health challenge for our society.

And, as diabetes becomes more and more common, so too does diabetic retinopathy, an insidious complication that can steal a person's eyesight with little to no warning.

Half a million Canadians are affected by diabetic retinopathy, making it the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians under 50 years of age. It occurs when uncontrolled blood sugar levels cause blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak, leading to retinal damage and vision loss.

In the early stages, it often attacks with no symptoms or associated pain - and by the time vision loss is perceptible, it's usually permanent.

Cases of diabetic retinopathy are projected to rise significantly in the years ahead. By the year 2031, the number of Canadians with this eye disease is estimated to increase 61 per cent, making this an epidemic of blinding proportions.

However, this is one epidemic that doesn't need to happen - because although diabetic retinopathy is one of the most serious eye diseases out there, it's also one of the most avoidable.

People with diabetes can take steps to avoid vision loss from diabetic retinopathy by controlling their blood pressure, exercising, eating healthy, keeping their blood sugar in check and getting regular eye examinations.

In fact, the importance of regular eye exams can't be understated. The reality is that nearly all Canadians with type 1 diabetes and 60 per cent of those with type 2 develop some form of diabetic retinopathy during the first 20 years they have the disease. But if caught early, diabetic retinopathy can be treated and further vision loss prevented.

Prevention is also the name of the game from an economic standpoint, given the huge financial burden diabetic retinopathy places on Canadian society as a whole. Diabetic retinopathy costs our economy an astonishing $521 million a year, including a whopping $258 million in direct health costs for things like hospitalization, treatment and vision care.

These numbers will only go up in the years ahead unless we do something to stem the tide.

Of course, that's to say nothing of the immense personal cost of vision loss in the lives of individual Canadians. Vision loss changes lives forever, and creates practical and emotional challenges that can be difficult to overcome. What's more, it adds an extra layer of complication to the management of chronic diseases like diabetes.

November 14 is World Diabetes Day. On this day of awareness, CNIB is asking Canadians with diabetes to take a closer look at their vision health, starting with a complete eye examination by an eye doctor. Your eyes will thank you.

For more information on diabetic retinopathy, visit cnib.ca/dr


Image with caption: "Dr. Keith Gordon is CNIB's vice-president of research (CNW Group/CNIB)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20121113_C7419_PHOTO_EN_20563.jpg

SOURCE: CNIB

For further information:

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CNIB: Seeing beyond vision loss. Visit www.cnib.ca.