Improvements in type 1 diabetes treatments may be contributing to lower rates of retinopathy

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are significantly more likely to develop retinopathy at some point in their life, particularly when the metabolic disease sets in at a young age. However, this does not necessarily need to be the fate of young diabetics.

Managing blood sugar levels may be the most effective way for diabetics to prevent retinopathy. High glucose is known to damage the sensitive vascular tissue of the eyes, so keeping blood sugar down may significantly reduce the risk of vision problems.

New evidence suggests that a growing number of individuals with type 1 diabetes are following this approach. A team of researchers from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, Australia reported in the journal Diabetes Care that rates of retinopathy among diabetics are dropping, and this reduction appears to correspond to improvements in glucose management.

For the study, the researchers tracked the health of more than 1,600 young people who had lived with type 1 diabetes for a period of five years of more. The team recruited new participants throughout the course of the study period, which lasted from 1990 through 2009. The results indicated that participants who had better blood sugar control were less likely to develop retinopathy.

Furthermore, the study revealed that retinopathy rates are dropping thanks to better blood sugar management. The researchers found that diabetics recruited to the study during the later years (from 2005 to 2009) were 23 percent more likely to achieve their target HbA1c levels. While about half of the participants who joined the study in the early 1990s developed vision loss, only about 12 percent of those studied later had retinopathy.

The researchers said that a few advances in type 1 diabetes treatments emerged during the study period that may account for the improvements in glucose regulation. In particular, they cited the benefits of continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII) and multiple daily injections (MDI).

"Our findings provide some reassurance for lower glycemic targets and increased use of MDI and CSII in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes," the researchers wrote in their report.