Diabetes related eye disease no longer a leading cause of blindness

by Barbara Hewitt on March 20, 2014

A new study has found that diabetes related eye disease is no longer the leading cause of blindness in working age adults in England and Wales.

Researchers at the renowned Moorfields Eye hospital in London looked at the causes of blindness in people aged 16 to 64 in the years 1999/2000 and in the years 2009/2010.


Hereditary retinal disorders had overtaken diabetic eye disease as the most common cause of blindness

They found that in the first period the leading cause of blindness among working adults was diabetic retinopathy and maculopathy, both long term complications of diabetes. This was followed by inherited retinal disorders and optic atrophy.

Diabetic retinopathy and maculopathy accounted for 17.7% of cases, inherited retinal disorders for 15.8% of cases and optic atrophy for 10.1%.

But a decade later, the researchers found that hereditary retinal disorders had overtaken diabetic eye disease as the most common cause of blindness, accounting for 20.2% of all cases that year compared to 14.4% for diabetic retinopathy and maculopathy.

Diabetes had been the main cause of blindness among working adults in England and Wales since at least 1963 and cases of type 2 diabetes has been increasing over the years so it is interesting that there has been a drop in the rates of diabetes related blindness. The researchers believe it is down to improvements in eye checks.

Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK National Screening Committee, said the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme, introduced in 2003, invites approximately 2.5 million people for screening every year. Of those, more than 74,000 were referred to hospital eye services for further investigation in 2013, which resulted in around 4,600 diabetic patients being treated to help prevent vision loss.

‘Before the launch of the diabetic eye programme, less than half of the people with diabetes had regular eye screening. Even where they did, the quality of the test varied from one place to another and many developed serious eye problems that could have been prevented,’ she explained.

While the research suggests good progress has been made in spotting and diagnosing diabetic eye problems at an early stage, Simon O’Neill, director of health intelligence at leading charity Diabetes UK, stressed that diabetes remains the leading cause of preventable sight loss in working age people.

‘While the rate of blindness has reduced, the rising number of people with diabetes means the actual number of people with diabetes who lose their sight has stayed about the same so there is still much work that needs to be done,’ O’Neill pointed out.

Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London have joined forces with The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and partners in the fight against avoidable blindness.

They are among 11 expert institutions from across the Commonwealth who have come together for the first time as the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, thanks to a £7.1 million grant from The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Coordinated by the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Tropical Medicine, the Consortium will pursue vital research into conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and will build capacity across the Commonwealth to tackle avoidable blindness and provide quality care to those affected or at risk.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marie July 16, 2014 at 1:21 pm

are we sure it is a decrease in diabetic blindness and not an INcrease in genetic blindness, cause that could be bad…


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