Page last updated at 06:38 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

More young diabetics in Wales need sight-saving action

Hywel Griffith
By Hywel Griffth
BBC Wales health correspondent

Eye test
Laura Mundell needs surgery on both eyes

Surgeons in Wales are having to give sight-saving treatment to patients in their late teens and 20s struggling to control their diabetes.

Retinopathy, damage to the blood vessels in the eye, is normally more common in older diabetic patients.

The numbers in Wales diagnosed with diabetes has nearly doubled in eight years to 160,000 following the start of a national screening programme.

Doctors are also worried patients are developing problems at a younger age.

"We are seeing it in younger and younger patients," said consultant opthalmologist Roger McPherson, who carries out surgery at Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales.

"We used to be operating much more on people in their 50s and 60s but I'm getting a steady stream of people in their 20s and even in their late teens."

Laura Mundell, diabetic since she was 15, describes complications with her sight

Its thought that poor management of the condition, ignoring advice on diet and lifestyle, are the main reasons for the rise. Often young people don't acknowledge the symptoms until the problems effect both eyes.

Laura Mundell, 29, from Caerleon, Newport, needs surgery on both eyes, having developed retinopathy as a result of her diabetes.

"I haemorrhaged quite badly in one eye and it was complete blackness - complete lack of vision," said Ms Mundell.

"Its horrendous - its the small things that you can't do any more like watching television, reading a magazine or even feeding my son and trying to find his mouth with a spoon - you can't do any of those things."

The Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Service for Wales said they have also seen a worrying rise in children developing problems.

"We are seeing probably a doubling in the number of younger persons diagnosed with diabetes," said the service's director Rosemarie Keigwin-Harris.

'Patients ignore'

"We have just over 1,400 patients aged under 12 with diabetes."

While the vast majority of those have type one diabetes, there has also been a rise in children developing type two diabetes, more commonly seen in adults.

"Just over 200 of those children are type two, its very worrying" said Ms Keigwin-Harris.

Early diagnosis and treatment is key to saving a patients' sight but often patients ignore early symptoms.

Mr McPherson added: "We are not uncommonly treating people when vision in their second eye is going. The vision drops in one eye and they don't seem to worry about it too much."

The Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Service for Wales offers clinics across the country to check for problems by taking digital images of the eye to assess for any damage.

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