Eye damage caused by diabetes is a serious problem on its own. But diabetic eye damage could also be a sign of heart problems to come.
Diabetes patients with diabetic retinopathy (damage to the eye's retina caused by diabetes) may be more likely to have heart problems in the future, according to a recent study.
Results showed that patients with more advanced retinopathy had an even higher risk of heart problems than those with less severe retinopathy.
The study was conducted by Hertzel C. Gerstein, MD, MSc, of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Canada, and colleagues. Past research has shown that diabetic retinopathy is linked to future heart problems. In addition, the severity of retinopathy may increase the likelihood of heart problems.
Diabetes increases the risk of a number of health problems, many of which affect the heart. Common heart complications in diabetes patients include heart attack, stroke and heart-related death.
Dr. Gerstein and colleagues wanted to see if the progression of diabetic retinopathy was also linked to heart problems. That is, could worsening retinopathy mean a higher chance of heart problems?
The researchers found that progression of retinopathy was a sign of heart outcomes. Compared to diabetes patients without retinopathy, the hazard ratio for heart problems rose from 1.49 for mild retinopathy to 2.35 for severe retinopathy.
A hazard ratio explains how much an event happens in one group versus another. A hazard ratio of more than 1.0 means that event happens more in the first group than in the second.
In this case, both patients with mild retinopathy and those with severe retinopathy were more likely to have heart problems than those without retinopathy. However, as retinopathy progressed from mild to severe, the likelihood of heart problems also increased.
Results also showed that every step of change in retinopathy increased the likelihood of heart problems by 38 percent.
According to the authors, both the severity of retinopathy and its progression may be signs of future heart problems. The study's findings suggest that looking at the retina may be a way to measure the effect of diabetes on future heart outcomes, the authors concluded.
The study - which included 3,433 participants - was published December 13 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.