NYM Offers Insight on Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

Jul 27, 2006

  July 27, 2006

NYM Offers Insight on Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the American Diabetes Association, each year between 12,000 and 24,000 people lose their sight due to complications from diabetes. The most common eye problem as a result of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, a disease that occurs when a person;s blood sugar or blood pressure level affects the blood vessels that nourish the retina. Diabetic retinopathy, if undiagnosed, can result in partial or total blindness.

At New York Methodist Hospital, ophthalmologists work closely with endocrinologists to provide education and treatment options for patients suffering from diabetic retinopathy. Within the Hospital''s Diabetes and Education Resource Center, patients are told how to best control their blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Poorly controlled diabetes increases the incidence of eye problems and the possibility of blindness, said Farida Khan, M.D., vice chairman of medicine and chief of endocrinology at NYM.

In the most common form of diabetic retinopathy, known as nonproliferative retinopathy, uncontrolled blood sugar and pressure levels may cause blood vessels in the eye to swell and become blocked, causing fluid to leak into the eye. In the more severe cases, called proliferative retinopathy, the damaged blood vessels may close off resulting in a lack of blood to the retina. To replenish itself, the body may grow new, leaky, abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the retina causing bleeding. If untreated, the leaked blood can blur vision or cause retinal detachments, resulting in partial or complete vision loss.

Studies show that 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. The disease can affect people of all ages depending on how long a person has been diabetic (often five years or more) and how well they control their blood sugar and blood pressure levels, said Sam Unterricht, M.D., Sam Unterricht, M.D., chief of retina and neuro-ophthalmology at New York Methodist Hospital. Diabetic retinopathy is the single most common eye condition I see at the Hospital, he said.

With early detection and treatment, the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is significantly reduced. We tell all of our patients with diabetes to have yearly eye examinations with an ophthalmologist, said Dr. Khan. Because diabetic retinopathy may not always be accompanied by noticeable symptoms, yearly eye examinations are important to diagnose the problem before it worsens. When symptoms do exist, patients are usually at a more serious stage of the disease, said Dr. Unterricht. These patients may experience blurring, spots, lines, webs or flashing lights, he said. Dr. Unterricht recommends patients who notice a change in their eyesight make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

Depending on the patient''s stage of diabetic retinopathy, an ophthalmologist will determine if treatment is necessary. If therapy is needed, various minimally invasive treatments are performed at NYM that are proven effective in protecting against further eye damage. Depending on the eye exam results, we may either perform a laser surgery or chemical therapy, said Dr. Unterricht. Aimed at treating different types of diabetic retinopathy, both have a quick recovery time and are performed on an outpatient basis. There is little to no pain and within about 15 minutes of either procedure, the patient begins feel back to normal, he said.

For information on the Diabetes and Education Resource Center at NYM, please call 718-246-8603. For a physician referral, please call the Hospital''s Physician Referral Service at 718-499-CARE.


Dr. Sam Unterricht examining a patient
Sam Unterricht, M.D., chief of retina and neuro-ophthalmology at New York Methodist Hospital, performs an eye examination. Dr. Unterricht performs various therapy options to treat diabetic retinopathy.