One in 12 diabetics over age 40 has vision-threatening eye disease

April 12, 2004

CHICAGO - Pooled data from previous studies suggests that approximately 4.1 million U.S. adults 40 years or older have diabetic retinopathy (DR), a disorder of the retina that occurs as a complication of diabetes mellitus (DM), affecting one twelfth of diabetics in this age group, according to an article in the April issue of The Archives of Ophthalmology, a theme issue on blindness, and one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to the article, diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. It affects the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye. Retinopathy occurs in most people with long-standing DM but its incidence can be reduced with aggressive control of glucose levels and blood pressure, the article states.

John H. Kempen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Wilmer Eye Institute at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, and colleagues in the Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, determined the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy among adults 40 years and older in the United States.

The researchers pooled data from eight population-based eye surveys. U.S. prevalence rates were estimated by using prevalence rates for DM reported in the 1999 National Health Interview Study, and 2000 U.S. Census population data.

The researchers found that among an estimated 10.2 million U.S. adults 40 years and older with DM, the estimated prevalence rates for retinopathy and vision threatening retinopathy were 40.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. The estimated prevalence rates for retinopathy and vision-threatening retinopathy among the general U.S. population were 3.4 percent (4.1 million people) and 0.75 percent (899,000 people), respectively.

"The results of our pooled analysis indicate that diabetic retinopathy affects approximately two fifths of persons 40 years and older who identify themselves as having DM," the researchers write. "An estimated one twelfth of persons with DM in this age group have reached the stage of vision-threatening disease. Even though diabetic retinopathy is a disease occurring only among persons with DM, the prevalence of DM in the general population is high enough that diabetic retinopathy is highly prevalent in the general U.S. adult population."
(Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122:552-563. Available post-embargo at

Editor's Note: The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group is an initiative sponsored by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Md.) with additional funding from Prevent Blindness America (Schaumburg, Ill.) that seeks to estimate the prevalence rates for major eye disorders.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312-464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail .
To contact John H. Kempen, M.D., Ph.D., call John Lazarou at 410-502-8902.

The JAMA Network Journals

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