Health: Diabetes

Diabetes affects a great many people in the UK, and often goes undiagnosed for months or years, until picked up in a routine sight test or health check. If you are diabetic, you will be asked to come for your eye test at least every year so that we can keep a closer eye on you and monitor any changes caused by your Diabetes. These sight tests will be funded by the NHS.

There are a number of types of diabetes. The most common, and the one that most often affects the eyes is diabetes mellitus. This develops when the cells of the body do not receive enough insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and controls how cells take in glucose from the blood (and generate energy), and also how the liver and fat cells store up glucose for future energy production. Too little insulin in the cells of the body occurs either because the pancreas produces too little insulin (or none at all) or because the cells have become resistant to it.

Diabetes Mellitus comes in two types, both of which tend to run in families. Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) normally develops suddenly in either childhood or adolescence. Sufferers must have insulin injections or they will fall into a coma and die. Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent) tends to develop in middle age, though it is becoming more common in younger people and thought to be linked to dieting. People with Type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight and often have close relatives with the condition. Although these patients can still produce insulin they cannot do so in sufficient quantities as their tissues have become resistant to its effects. Treatment may include weight loss, a diabetic diet, exercise and anti-diabetic drugs.

Modern treatment, combined with responsible self-monitoring means that diabetics can usually live a normal life however the disease is irreversible and reduces life expectancy. Failure to heed the advice of health professionals in the treatment of diabetes mellitus can speed up and/or worsen the onset of complications.

The complications include retinopathy (damage to the retina, the light sensitive part of the eye), nephropathy (kidney damage) and neuropathy (nerve damage) which may be experienced as a loss of sensation in the extremities. Diabetics are likely to have poor blood circulation, are more prone to ulcers on the feet and legs, dizziness when standing and in men, impotence. They are also at greater risk of atherosclerosis (fatty arteries), high blood pressure, heart disease and cataracts.