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Study: Hypertension Increases Damage to Eyes of Diabetic Patients

Update Date: Jul 12, 2012 11:50 AM EDT

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and about 68 million U.S. adults has high blood pressure - a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. Approximately 13 percent of U.S. adults suffer from a combination of two of the conditions.

 Hypertension frequently coexists in patients with diabetes and a new University of Georgia study says the combined diseases could affect vision.

Researchers examined animals with early and established stages of diabetes that also had hypertension.

"Results showed early signals of cell death in eyes from diabetic animals within the first six weeks of elevated blood pressure. Later, the tiny blood vessels around the optic nerve that nourish the retina and affect visual processing showed signs of decay as early as 10 weeks after diabetic animals develop hypertension," said Azza El-Remessy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Pharmacy.

Co-author of the study Islam Mohamed said  that controlling blood pressure in diabetic patients is beneficial

"Our study highlights the synergistic and immediate interaction between systemic hypertension and diabetes as two independent risk factors for persistent retina damage known as retinopathy," Mohamed said." This emphasizes the importance of addressing different cardiovascular risk factors in a holistic approach for improving management and prevention of retinopathy."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, high blood pressure was projected to cost the United States $93.5 billion in health care services, medications, and missed days of work. Researchers said that early intervention is a key factor in improving the outcome for patients.

"Health care providers, including pharmacists, should stress the importance of the tight control of blood sugar and blood pressure levels for their patients," El-Remessy said. "Providing patient education and counseling on how each of these metabolic problems independently can have accelerated devastating effects is critical and can result in better prevention and outcomes for the patients."

The findings were published in the June issue of the Journal of Molecular Vision and this was the first study to understand or explain why combining increased blood pressure with diabetes would hurt blood vessels in the eye.

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