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Open Access Research article

Prevalence and progression of visual impairment in patients newly diagnosed with clinical type 2 diabetes: a 6-year follow up study

Niels de Fine Olivarius1*, Volkert Siersma1, Gitte Juul Almind1 and Niels Vesti Nielsen2

Author Affiliations

1 The Research Unit for General Practice and Section of General Practice, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

2 University Eye Clinic, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:80  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-80

Published: 4 February 2011

Abstract

Background

Many diabetic patients fear visual loss as the worst consequence of diabetes. In most studies the main eye pathology is assigned as the cause of visual impairment. This study analysed a broad range of possible ocular and non-ocular predictors of visual impairment prospectively in patients newly diagnosed with clinical type 2 diabetes.

Methods

Data were from a population-based cohort of 1,241 persons newly diagnosed with clinical, often symptomatic type 2 diabetes aged ≥ 40 years. After 6 years, 807 patients were followed up. Standard eye examinations were done by practising ophthalmologists.

Results

At diabetes diagnosis median age was 65.5 years. Over 6 years, the prevalence of blindness (visual acuity of best seeing eye ≤ 0.1) rose from 0.9% (11/1,241) to 2.4% (19/807) and the prevalence of moderate visual impairment (> 0.1; < 0.5) rose from 5.4% (67/1,241) to 6.7% (54/807). The incidence (95% confidence interval) of blindness was 40.2 (25.3-63.8) per 10,000 patient-years. Baseline predictors of level of visual acuity (age, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, living alone, low self-rated health, and sedentary life-style) and speed of continued visual loss (age, AMD, diabetic retinopathy (DR), cataract, living alone, and high fasting triglycerides) were identified.

Conclusions

In a comprehensive assessment of predictors of visual impairment, even in a health care system allowing self-referral to free eye examinations, treatable eye pathologies such as DR and cataract emerge together with age as the most notable predictors of continued visual loss after diabetes diagnosis. Our results underline the importance of eliminating barriers to efficient eye care by increasing patients' and primary care practitioners' awareness of the necessity of regular eye examinations and timely surgical treatment.