News Releases

November 11, 2003

Emory Eye Center physician echoes PBA's warning that diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in American adults

(ATLANTA) November 1-30 is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Many are unaware that diabetes can lead to vision loss when untreated. phthalmologists at the Emory Eye Center routinely treat patients who have the particular complications of diabetes that affect their vision.

Of the approximately 17 million Americans with diabetes, about 6 million do not even know they have the disease. About one million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year, and close to half a million Americans die every year from complications of the disease says Prevent Blindness America (PBA), the nation's leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight.

"Our recent studies suggest that rigid control of diabetes dramatically reduces secondary complications, including eye, kidney, heart and vascular problems," says Thomas Aaberg, Sr., a leading retina surgeon and director of the Emory Eye Center. "Rigid control means using an insulin pump or injecting insulin more than one time a day. Once diabetics have proliferative retinopathy, tight control will not cause reversal of the problem, but the disorder is preventable and very treatable with continuous medical treatment and a yearly exam by an ophthalmologist."

Diabetes is a disease that wreaks havoc on just about every part of the body, including the eyes. While many of the health problems associated with diabetes are well publicized, many people are unaware that the disease causes severe vision problems that can lead to blindness. In fact, diabetic retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year. Persons with diabetes are also at increased risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma.

The longer you have diabetes, the more likely that you will develop diabetic retinopathy. According to PBA, there are 5.3 million Americans age 18 and older with diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy affects the tiny blood vessels of the retina, causing them to break down, leak or become blocked. Unhealthy new blood vessels may also grow, distorting vision over time. Treatment for diabetic retinopathy includes laser therapy - called photocoagulation, to seal the leaking or bleeding.

"Because of the serious threat to good vision, PBA recommends people with diabetes get an annual dilated eye exam," said Daniel D. Garrett, PBA spokesperson. "Controlling blood sugar levels and blood pressure are two additional things people can do to help reduce the risks of diabetic retinopathy," added Garrett.

Diabetes imposes a huge financial burden on society, especially to individuals affected by the disease and their families. According to a recent study by the American Diabetes Association, the annual cost of medical expenditures related to the disease and lost productivity rose from $98 billion in 1997 to $132 billion in 2002.

While type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, it only accounts for about 5-10% of all cases. The rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes, especially among children and adolescents has caused a huge increase in total cases. In addition, there are an astounding 16 million Americans ages 40-74 with pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal. So what can you do to help prevent type 2 diabetes, or if you already have been diagnosed, to maintain your health, PBA has the following healthy tips:

• Maintain a healthy weight - if you are overweight, even a modest weight loss can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
• Increase physical activity - exercising 30 minutes a day five days a week can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than half. It is important to check with your doctor before staring an exercise program.
• Watch and control blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
• See an eye doctor at least once a year if you have diabetes or if you are at high risk.
• Quit smoking as that lifestyle change can help reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, as well as cataracts.

Founded in 1908, Prevent Blindness America is the nation's leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight. Focused on promoting a continuum of vision care, Prevent Blindness America touches the lives of millions of people each year through public and professional education, advocacy, certified vision screening training, community and patient service programs and research. These services are made possible through the generous support of the American public. Together with a network of affiliates, divisions and chapters, Prevent Blindness America is committed to eliminating preventable blindness in the U.S. For more information about diabetes and eye disease, call 1-800-331-2020 or visit us on the web at

Media Contact: Joy H. Bell

Our Emory campus location:

Copyright © Emory Eye Center - All Rights Reserved | Emory Clinic Building B, 1365B Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30322 USA