There are several systemic diseases and illnesses that affect not only the health of your body but specifically the health of your eyes. One of the conditions I encounter most when examining patients is diabetes. “Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With Type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With Type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood.” (source 1) Having an elevated amount of glucose in your blood over a period of time can have devastating effects. It can damage organs such as the eyes, kidneys and nerves and can also put you at greater risk for stroke and heart disease (source 1).
Once you are diagnosed with Diabetes, you have to be monitored very carefully to ensure that your diabetes is under control and that elevated glucose levels are not causing damage to your eyes. Yearly dilated eye exams are a must with your eye doctor to check for even early signs of diabetic retinopathy. If early warning signs are found, your eye doctor will communicate this to your general physician who will make decisions on how to manage your blood sugar and keep it as close to normal as possible. One of the ways to monitor how well your diabetes is being controlled is by getting bloodwork to test your Hemoglobin A1C levels (A1C levels). The A1C test measures average blood glucose levels for a period of up to 3 months. (source 2) This has been the standard of care for monitoring glucose control in Diabetics but now is also becoming a method of determining if someone is at high risk for developing diabetes in the near future. A diagnosis of Diabetes can be made if your A1C level is 6.5% or higher and an increased risk for Diabetes in the near future can be noted for patients with an A1C of 5.7% to 6.4%. (source 2)
The American Diabetes Association revised their Diabetes Guidelines for 2010, retinal photography may be helpful in detecting clinically significant diabetic retinopathy but does not take the place of an initial comprehensive eye exam and dilation of pupils. See your eye doctor for this thorough testing upon initial diagnosis of Diabetes and every 12 months thereafter. Your eye doctor may suggest more frequent dilations of the pupils if your glucose levels are not under control. Also, those who are at increased risk for diabetes should be examined as well. This will help establish baseline findings and help your eye doctor to better detect even subtle changes in your eyes over time.
You can see now how knowing the results of your latest bloodwork, specifically, your A1C results, would be a fast and efficient way assessing your risk for Diabetes or, if you know you are diabetic, how well you are currently being controlled through medications, diet and exercise. Since it spans a period of three months, it gives a better picture of your glucose levels than older methods. You deserve the best quality of care for your eyes and the rest of your body. Take the proactive, preventative approach towards your health, ask your doctor about your A1C number and what else can be done to lower your risk of damage caused by increased glucose.
Here are some statistics on Diabetes from 2007 copied directly from Diabetes.org (source cited below as well) :
“Data from the 2007 National Diabetes Fact Sheet (the most recent year for which data is available)
Total: 23.6 million children and adults in the United States—7.8% of the population—have diabetes.
Diagnosed: 17.9 million people
Undiagnosed: 5.7 million people
Pre-diabetes: 57 million people
New Cases: 1.6 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in people aged 20 years and older each year. ”
LOOK AT THE 57 MILLION PEOPLE WHO FALL INTO THE PRE-DIABETES CATEGORY!
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