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Sleep Apnea Increases Retinopathy Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Glucometer and other instruments

As with sleep apnea, diabetes is a condition that can dramatically impact your overall health. As with sleep apnea, there is virtually no part of your body that is not impacted by your diabetes. So when you have both sleep apnea and diabetes, the impact to your health can be devastating.

One place where this combined effect shows up is in the risk for retinopathy–eye damage related to diabetes. A new study shows that people with sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk for diabetic retinopathy.

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a complication of diabetes in which damaged blood vessels in the eye lead to vision problems.

Diabetes is hard on small blood vessels, such as those in the eye. Damage from diabetes can cause these tiny blood vessels to close up, leaving the eye without adequate blood supply. To fill the gap, the body grows new blood vessels, but these can distort and even damage the retina. They can even leak. The swelling, scarring, and death of retinal cells can lead to diminished sight and even a loss of vision.

Retinopathy More Common–and More Severe

In this study by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK followed 230 patients with type 2 diabetes. None of these patients had previously been diagnosed with sleep apnea or any other respiratory condition. All 230 patients were tested for both sleep apnea and (DR). For sleep apnea, researchers used a multichannel home test. For DR, detailed scans of the eye were used. In both cases, these are robust diagnostic tools, helping to add credibility to the findings.

Researchers found that 64% of the type 2 diabetes patients had sleep apnea, while 36% had sight-threatening DR (STDR). Diabetics with sleep apnea were more likely to have STDR. After adjusting for confounders, diabetics with sleep apnea had a 2.3 times higher chance of developing STDR.

After following the patients for an average of 43 months, researchers found that the risk wasn’t limited to the initial incidence of DR. Diabetics with sleep apnea were 5.3 times more likely to develop a more serious form of DR known as proliferative DR. This includes the early cases that haven’t yet met the clinical definition of proliferative DR, but are likely to.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Seems to Help

It wasn’t the point of this study, but it nonetheless revealed that sleep apnea treatment might help reduce the risk of DR. The study showed that patients who got CPAP treatment over the period of the study were significantly less likely to develop proliferative DR. Although the results were statistically significant, researchers say that more studies are needed to confirm the effect.

But with the increased risk related to sleep apnea, it’s important that people with diabetes get tested for sleep apnea, get treatment, and follow through with treatment. If CPAP works for you, great, but if not, oral appliance therapy remains another alternative that may be easier to adjust to.

If you would like to learn more about how sleep apnea treatment can protect you from diabetes complications in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.