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  • Writer's pictureHouman Ahdieh, MD

Your Small Intestine May Be to Blame For Your Blindness

Diabetic blindness, or diabetic retinopathy, is a severe complication of diabetes affecting your sight. Blood vessel changes in the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye, causes the condition. They can lead to vision loss or even blindness. Diabetic retinopathy may be caused by a lack of an enzyme in your digestive tract, according to recent research.

What is Diabetic Blindness?

Diabetic blindness is one of the most common causes of blindness in US adults. It’s estimated up to a quarter of people with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy. People with type 1 (Also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes. Insulin is a hormone allowing the body to use sugar for energy) and type 2 diabetes (a chronic condition where your body doesn’t correctly use insulin) are at risk for diabetic blindness. Those with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk.

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy often show no symptoms, so regular eye exams are essential for early detection. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include blurred vision, floaters, or dark spots in the field of vision. In advanced stages, diabetic retinopathy can cause severe vision loss or blindness.

The main risk factors for diabetic blindness include poor blood sugar control, high blood pressure, and a long duration of diabetes. Those with diabetes who smoke or have a family history of diabetic retinopathy are also at higher risk.

What Can Be Done About It?

The good news is that diabetic blindness is preventable. The key is to catch the condition early and take steps to slow its progression. This includes regular eye exams, good blood sugar control, and blood pressure management. If you’re diagnosed with the condition, laser treatment can slow diabetic retinopathy’s progression and prevent blindness.

It is also essential for people with diabetes to take care of their overall health, including getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking.

If you have diabetes, it’s essential to have regular eye exams to catch diabetic retinopathy early. With early detection and proper management, it is possible to prevent diabetic blindness and preserve your vision.

What Does My Small Intestine Have to Do With Diabetic Retinopathy?

New research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has discovered a possible way to prevent this condition. The study, published in the journal Diabetes, found that the enzyme ACE2 (or angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, is a protein primarily found in the lungs but is also present in other organs) in the small intestine, plays a critical role in regulating blood flow to the retina.

In mice with type 1 diabetes, researchers found that reducing ACE2 in the gut led to impaired blood flow and diabetic blindness. Diabetic retinopathy was prevented when researchers maintained ACE2 levels in the gut of diabetic mice, which led to preserving blood flow to the retina.

These findings suggest that targeting ACE2 in the gut may be a way to prevent diabetic blindness in people with type 1 diabetes, but further studies are needed to confirm that.


The Lehigh Valley Center for Sight Can Help You Maintain Your Sight

If you want to schedule an eye exam or have questions or concerns about how your diabetes can impact your vision, call us at 610-437-4988 or use our online contact form. We can answer your questions and schedule an eye exam to determine if you have diabetic retinopathy and, if so, what we can do to help.

Houman Ahdieh, MD Lehigh Valley Center for Sight



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