Retinopathy Slowed by Good Blood Sugar Control

One of the better treatment plans for retinopathy is improved blood sugar control, according to a the results of a new study. However, intensive glucose control comes with some risk.

On June 11th, 2016, the National Institute of Health released results of a long-term study examining the link between blood sugar control and retinopathy, a diabetes-related complication that can cause vision loss and blindness. The study was a follow-up of the ACCORD study, which tracked cardiovascular risks in people with Type 2 diabetes. In both studies, it was found that tight control of blood sugar levels slowed the advance of retinopathy.

The ACCORD study originally divided participants into three groups that would receive therapy to closely control their cholesterol, lipid, or blood glucose levels for four years. Researchers then tested to see if any of the three groups experienced a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. What they found, though, was that the group that strictly controlled their blood sugar levels had slowed the progression of retinopathy by one-third compared to the other two groups.

After these initial findings, researchers decided to follow up on the blood glucose control group four years after ACCORD – after the group’s strict glucose monitoring had ended. (The researchers apparently had a sense of humor and called this follow-up study ACCORDION). They found that the benefits of intensive blood glucose control were long-lasting – 5.8 percent of the blood sugar control group had advanced retinopathy compared to 12.7 percent of their peers in the other groups.

Unfortunately, this method of controlling retinopathy did come with some risk. Researchers in the ACCORD study noted that there was an increased risk of mortality in the intensive blood sugar control group during the study, enough so that they decided to end this portion of the study 17 months ahead of schedule. Researchers weren’t able to determine what specifically had caused the increased risk of death.

This isn’t the first study to show evidence that blood glucose control could slow the progression of retinopathy. Two long-term research efforts in the UK reported similar results. These studies also showed improvement in kidney and peripheral nerve health with intensive blood sugar control.

The findings seem to provide evidence that good glucose control can help curb the progression of retinopathy, but that intensive blood glucose control therapy comes with some risk. All changes in diabetes treatment plans should be carefully monitored by a medical team.

You can read the full press release about the ACCORDION study here.

Kate Doughty is a third-year student at the University of Virginia, where she is studying English with an area concentration in literary prose.

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