The disease most likely to lead to blindness remains largely unknown to most Americans, a recent study shows.

Diabetic retinopathy, which affects more than 8 million Americans, damages the blood vessels in the retina, causing blurred vision,  floaters and, in late stages, retinal detachment. The disease is projected to become even more common. Yet most adults are unfamiliar with its risk factors and symptoms, which include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, in addition to diabetes.

Better integration of care can help prevent new cases of diabetic retinopathy. It can also lead to better treatment of diabetes, a key risk factor. But, as it is, a fragmented health care system can make care difficult for interconnected diseases like these.

Patients often find themselves seeing multiple medical specialists at different hospitals or clinics, with each physician focusing on just part of the problem. This leaves patients to piece together recommendations from several health care providers. An overabundance of information makes it hard for patients to optimize their health despite their efforts.

The same is true for patients with diabetes and hypertension, or diabetes and high cholesterol.

But there is still hope for people living with diabetes.

Patients can control their diabetes and lessen their risk for diabetic eye disease by adopting healthy behaviors. Eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity and taking one’s medication as prescribed can all help. The longer one has diabetes, the more likely he or she is to develop diabetic retinopathy, which makes preventive measures like these even more important.

While prevention is the goal, early detection is a close second. Experts recommend that everyone with diabetes get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year. Vision loss due to diabetic eye disease can’t be recovered, but early detection and, in turn, early treatment can help slow or even prevent vision loss.

from the Institute for Patient Access