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Updated Recommendations for Eye Exams in Diabetic Patients

New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine looks at the current recommendation that all patients with type 1 diabetes need annual eye exams.

Since diabetic retinopathy can damage tissue at the back of the eye and trigger full blindness, patients have been advised for years to get annual eye exams regardless of personal risk level. However, not every patient with type 1 diabetes is at the same level of risk.

During the study, investigators looked at patients with type 1 diabetes from ages 13 to 39 years who had enrolled in a national trial from 1983 to 1989. Investigators also analyzed 24,000 eye exams conducted over 30 years and tracked retinal photographs, vision, diabetes history, and retinopathy status. It was found that participants with an average blood sugar level of 6% and no signs of retinopathy could have eye exams spaced further apart.

Author of the study, Dr. David Nathan (director of the Diabetes Center and Clinical Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital), indicated that patients who have good blood sugar levels and minimal eye changes may not need eye exams every year. However, patients who have blood sugar levels outside of the recommended range or who are already developing eye disease may need exams as frequently as three months apart.

New recommendations for patients with type 1 diabetes that reduce the need for frequent eye exams translates to an overall healthcare industry savings of $1 billion. It is still unknown if physicians will use these findings to adjust how often eye exams are recommended.

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