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Author: Kate Rude
Source: Archives of Ophthalmology, September 2006

Type 1: Time and again, studies show that poor blood glucose control increases the risk of complications such as diabetic retinopathy, a common cause of blindness.

Now, a new caveat-the risk is particularly high in African Americans.

New Jersey researchers examined the progression of eye disease in African Americans with type 1 diabetes who had originally participated in a study from 1993-1998.

Six years later, the researchers gave follow-up medical evaluations to 483 of the original participants, which included a full eye exam with photographs of each eye. They also measured blood pressure and A1c (a snapshot of blood glucose levels over 3 months).

They found that more than 70% of those at risk for diabetic retinopathy at baseline had developed signs of the disease. Over half of those who already had some signs of retinopathy at baseline had progressed to more severe conditions.

Those with high blood glucose levels and high blood pressure at the beginning of the 6-year period were more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy or have an increase in the serverity of the disease.

For example, those with the poorest blood glucose levels had 20 times the odds of progressing to severe retinopathy after 6 years than those with the best control.

“We don’t see anything quite like this in whites,” says Monique S. Roy, MD, of the Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at New Jersey Medical School in Newark. Roy led the study.

“In African Americans, the disease progresses much more,” says Roy, citing separate studies in whites. She advocates that African Americans be followed for eye disease very carefully, particularly those with early signs of the disease.