NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In the US, approximately 8 percent of people with diabetes develop potentially blinding retinal problems before the age of 40, epidemiologists report.
In a second report in the Archives of Ophthalmology, researchers found that the condition -- diabetic retinopathy -- threatens the vision of nearly 30 percent of adults with type 1 diabetes before 30 years of age.
The two research teams estimated the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy based on data pooled from population-based eye surveys -- the 1999 National Health Interview Survey, and the 2000 US Census.
Dr. John H. Kempen, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and members of the Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, found the prevalence of retinopathy among people with diabetes was 40.3 percent, and the prevalence of vision-threatening disease was 8.2 percent.
By comparisons, the corresponding figures in the general population were 3.4 percent and 0.75 percent.
Because rates of diabetes vary in different ethnic groups, there are large differences in the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy, Kempen's group reports. Compared with white persons, Hispanics are approximately 1.5 times as likely and blacks are 1.3 times as likely to have diabetic retinopathy.
The second team of investigators, led by Dr. Monique S. Roy, at the University of Medicine and Dentistry-New Jersey Medical School in Newark, report that 86.4 percent of people with insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes between the ages of 18 to 30 have diabetic retinopathy, which threatens vision in 42.1 percent of affected patients.
Kempen's team points out that diabetic retinopathy often causes blindness during working-age years, and thus results in large economic costs.
However, it is often preventable with intensive control of blood glucose levels and high blood pressure, along with regular patient monitoring and treatment of high-risk diabetic retinopathy.
"Because diabetic retinopathy is a substantial public health problem, public and private policy efforts directed toward improving primary and secondary prevention programs are warranted," Roy's group writes.
"The key finding is that the burden of disease is large, and will become much larger as the population gets more elderly," Kempen told Reuters Health.
SOURCE: Archives of Ophthalmology, April 2004.