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Thousands of young people with diabetes could be blind by 40

One in three people with Type 1 diabetes aged between 18 and 30 already has retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness in later life, says a survey presented today.

Although retinopathy, a condition affecting the blood vessels supplying the retina, can be treated successfully if caught early, some of the young people in the study had already reached advanced stages of the disease.

These worrying findings, presented today at the Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference (APC), raise the issue of inadequate access to retinal screening. Recent statistics have shown that 26 per cent of young people with diabetes aged between 12 and 17 haven’t had an eye test for retinopathy in the last 12 months. Official government guidelines state that all young people with diabetes should receive a yearly screening from the age of 12.

The study of 103 young adults, conducted by researchers in Norwich, also shows a correlation between people not attending their clinic appointments and increased risk of developing retinopathy: 54.3 per cent of those who showed signs of the complication had a history of non-attendance. This raises fears that the current services do not meet the specific needs of young people, making them ‘drop out’ of their diabetes clinics.

"“Retinopathy is a common complication in people with diabetes but seeing such widespread signs of the disease in such young adults is alarming,"” said lead researcher Dr Ritesh Rampure.

“"The majority of the young people with eye disease had a history of poor attendance at clinics and poor blood glucose control. We need to address the issue of non-attendance to stop people from losing their sight needlessly.”"

Douglas Smallwood, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, added, "“These findings are startling and deeply worrying. We have to make sure that all people with diabetes across the UK have access to digital retinal screening."

“"There is also a critical need for services to be more targeted around the specific needs of young people with diabetes in order to make the transition between paediatric and adult care smoother.

"We also need to improve access to structured education and more research is needed to look into the possible benefits of screening children at an earlier age."

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