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For people living with diabetes, understanding the corresponding risks to their eye health is vitally important.

While insulin has saved and improved millions of lives around the world, it’s not a cure. Those living with diabetes continue to face challenging complications, including blindness. Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness in those 20 to 64 years of age. Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a diabetes complication that affects the eyes and can lead to vision changes or sight loss. Diabetes Canada hopes that just knowing about diabetic retinopathy will help people living with diabetes avoid the risk of sight loss or delay the onset of DR.

May is Vision Health Month and an important time to raise awareness about the sight loss complications of diabetes. During last year’s Vision Health Month, Diabetes Canada published a Sight Loss Prevention and Diabetes Policy Statement. As the country’s leading diabetes charity and publisher of diabetes clinical practice guidelines, Diabetes Canada developed recommendations for federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, health care providers, and people living with diabetes about DR screening, prevention, and treatment. The goal of the policy is to improve health outcomes for Canadians with diabetes.


The Diabetes Canada sight loss prevention policy will help change personal experiences and potentially save the vision for many people with diabetes.

Franca Cupello

Calgary, Alberta’s Franca Cupello was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before age 40 and a decade later was diagnosed with DR. She shared her lived experience with Diabetes Canada to help inform the sight loss prevention and diabetes policy. “Early access to eye health monitoring, together with a solid understanding of the risks related to blindness, are imperative and should be considered part of the early treatment plan for people with diabetes,” says Franca. “The Diabetes Canada sight loss prevention policy will help change personal experiences and potentially save the vision for many people with diabetes. This policy may also serve as a guide for stakeholders — from family physicians to eye care specialists, vision loss agencies, and governments.”

“For some people with diabetes, monitoring and maintaining their eye health and having enhanced screening and access to treatment with the support of all levels of government could reduce the onset of DR,” says Laura Syron, President and CEO of Diabetes Canada. “But, as the number of Canadians with diabetes increases, the negative impact of DR will become an even bigger burden on those with diabetes and our economy.”

For those with DR, further health complications can arise. Sight loss caused by DR is linked to increased falls and hip fractures, for example. Additionally, some populations are at greater risk of sight loss caused by DR. Compared to other Canadians, people living in northern, remote, and rural communities, Indigenous Canadians, and visible minorities experience far more sight loss caused by DR.

There are several other factors that increase the risk of DR. These include how long someone has had diabetes, whether their A1C is above their target range, high blood pressure, unhealthy levels of one or more kinds of fat (lipid) in the blood, low blood count (or anemia), being pregnant with type 1 diabetes, and high levels of protein in the urine. Effective management and treatment of these factors can slow the damage from DR.

A national framework to address diabetes — committed to by the federal government and supported by all provinces and territories — could help to improve access to eye health care, prevention strategies, screening, and treatment for people with diabetes.

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