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Blindness a major concern for people with diabetes

By Staff
VISION Dr. Don E. Marascalco, an ophthalmologist, examines the eyes of one of his patients at the Eye Clinic of Meridian. Photo by Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star.
By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Oct. 20, 2001
Diabetes is the leading cause of all new cases of blindness in the United States.
Dr. Don E. Marascalco, an ophthalmologist at the Eye Clinic of Meridian and board member of the East Mississippi Chapter of the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, said in most cases blindness develops because patients delay seeking medical care and often don't have a yearly eye examination.
An estimated 240,000 Mississippians have diabetes, he said, and some 80,000 people believed to have the disease don't know it.
Because of the delay in diagnosis, some patients already have eye disease by the time they find out they have diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy
High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and helps send images to the brain. Damage to retinal vessels is called diabetic retinopathy.
At the more advanced stage, Marascalco said most people will be able to have their diabetic retinopathy stabilized with laser surgery. In some cases, however, the disease progresses until blindness.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a long-term, chronic disease. It affects a person's ability to use insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that takes sugar from the food we eat and puts it in the cells of our bodies to be used for energy.
Type 1 diabetes usually appears in children or young adults. People with Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin daily to live, because their pancreas produces little or no insulin. About one in 10 people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in people after age 30 or 40. The pancreas of people with Type 2 diabetes keeps producing insulin, but their body can't use it well enough. Type 2 diabetes is treated with diet, exercise, stress relief, smoking cessation and medication, including insulin.
The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi suggests people over age 45 be tested for the disease. If blood sugar levels are normal, it is recommended tests be repeated in three-year intervals.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at