Complications of Diabetes

Diabetic Eye Disease - an Overview


Diabetes is a major cause of loss of sight in adults of the western world. The importance of diabetic eye disease is reflected in the emphasis on regular eye screening at diabetes clinics. Early detection and treatment can prevent many of the sight threatening complications. The Suffolk West Primary Care Trust and the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust have initiated a community based screening programme, using a mobile eye camera which harnesses the latest technology with a view to improving the 'pick-up rate' of early retinopathy in the West Suffolk area. Please see the page on the Eye Screening Service for more information. 

How does diabetes affect the eyes?

Having high concentrations of blood sugar as well as high blood pressure can cause damage to the eyes.

People with diabetes can have a variety of complications involving the eyes. The first of these listed is specific or peculiar to diabetes. The remaining conditions may be seen in people who do not have diabetes. However, those with diabetes suffer these problems more commonly and sometimes at an earlier age.

  • Poorly controlled diabetes may cause transient visual blurring, due to high glucose concentrations causing changes in the curvature of the lens of the eye
  • Diabetic retinopathy - a condition affecting the blood vessels of the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye.
  • Cataracts - a clouding or opacification of the lens
  • Glaucoma - a pressure build-up within the eye which may be painful and cause loss of vision
  • Occular Nerve palsies - damage to the nerves which control movement of the eye may result in double vision

How do I prevent these problems?

  • Maintain good control of blood sugar and blood pressure
  • Do not smoke
  • Regular visits to your doctor or eye screening centre
  • Request an eye examination before pregnancy

How large is the scale of the problem?

It is estimated that between 1% to 6% of people with diabetes registered with General practitioners in the UK have diabetic retinopathy requiring treatment. Details are scanty due to a lack of data, however many diabetes services have recently initiated screening programmes and computerised databases for retinopathy screening which will yield better information in the future. It has been suggested that a community-based screening programme would save each year in England and Wales, 260 new cases of blindness in people with diabetes under the age of 70 years.


Dr. Nishan Wijenaike, Consultant Physician
West Suffolk Hospital Diabetes Service
October 2002