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Spring 2007

Eye Examination Can Prevent Blindness from Diabetes

A complication of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among U.S. adults

Diabetic retinopathy—damage to the blood vessels in the retina as a complication of diabetes—is the leading cause of blindness among working age U.S. adults. This loss of sight is largely preventable through glucose control and early detection and treatment of the retinopathy, but only about 30 percent of diabetics obtain the recommended ophthalmic evaluations to detect the retinal changes that signal the disease, says Steven Schwartz, M.D., Chief, UCLA’s Jules Stein Institute Retina Division. Moreover, as many as 40 percent of the nation’s diabetics have not been diagnosed, according to Andrew Drexler, M.D., director of UCLA’s Gonda (Goldschmied) Diabetes Center. He notes that at the time of diagnosis, an estimated one in five people with diabetes already show retinopathy.

Annual retinopathy screening is recommended for all adults with diabetes. One exam tool is a fundus photograph, a simple procedure that takes a picture of the retina with a special camera. At UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, Dr. Schwartz and colleagues have worked with cameras that provide a view of about 40 percent of the retina without the need to dilate the eye, providing better detection than previous devices. In an effort to reach more diabetic patients, Dr. Schwartz has collaborated with physicians in the Gonda Center to place cameras there. He has also worked with the Venice Family Clinic to enable retinopathy screening of the nearly 2,000 diabetic patients who visit the facility, which provides free, quality health care to the area's low-income, uninsured population. Fundus photographs of every diabetic patient are digitally transferred to UCLA, where they are reviewed by Jules Stein Eye Institute experts, allowing for early intervention of retinopathy to preserve sight.

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