February Newsletter: Eating Disorders Can Increase a Person's Risk for Diabetic Retinopathy

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An Eating Disorder Could Increase Your Risk of Diabetic Retinopathy

Heart, brain, and digestive system problems aren't the only possible health consequences of eating disorders. If you have diabetes, your disorder may put you at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, a serious eye condition that could cause vision loss.

Diabetic Retinopathy and Your Blood Sugar Level

Have you ever noticed that things look a little blurry when your blood sugar is too high? High glucose (blood sugar) levels cause swelling in the lens of the eye, the clear structure behind your pupil. The lens helps focus light rays on your retina, the tissue that covers the back of your eye. The retina's job is to change light rays into electrical impulses and send the impulses to the brain for processing.

Unfortunately, swelling makes it difficult for the lens to focus the rays directly on the retina. If the rays aren't focused properly, your vision will become blurry. Luckily, blurred vision may only be temporary and might improve if you lower your blood sugar.

Blurry vision can also be a sign of diabetic retinopathy, a problem that affects almost one-third of adults over 40 with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetic retinopathy happens when high blood sugar causes swelling in retinal blood vessels. If your blood sugar remains high for too long, the blood vessels may eventually become blocked. Blocked vessels prevent the retina from receiving the blood it needs to function normally.

The retina reacts to blockages by growing new blood vessels to replace the blocked vessels. Unfortunately, these blood vessels are often weak and abnormal. They may leak blood and fluids and trigger the formation of scar tissue, which can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy doesn't usually cause any symptoms in the early stages. As the condition progresses, you may experience:

  • Blurry Vision
  • Dark Floaters That Pass Through Your Field of Vision
  • Blind Spots
  • Faded Colors
  • Poor Night Vision

The Link Between Eating Disorders and Diabetic Retinopathy

An eating disorder could increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy significantly. According to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders in January 2022, the risk for diabetic retinopathy increases almost three times if you have diabetes and also have an eating disorder. The study examined the link between diabetic retinopathy and two types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is caused by failing to eat enough food, while bulimia nervosa occurs when you binge eat, then force yourself to vomit immediately after eating. Both eating disorders restrict the number of calories you consume and deprive your body of vital nutrients needed for good health. Some people who have type 1 diabetes may also use less insulin or stop using insulin in an attempt to lose weight.

Eating disorders can cause serious health problems for anyone but are particularly dangerous for people who have diabetes. As many as 20 percent of people with diabetes may also have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa or may binge eat, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Binge eating without vomiting didn't seem to cause an increase in diabetic retinopathy in the studies the researchers reviewed.)

According to lead author Mike Trott of Anglia Ruskin University, inconsistent food intake or failing to take enough insulin may make it harder to control blood sugar. As a result, your risk for diabetic retinopathy may begin to rise.

Do You Have an Eating Disorder?

Getting your eating disorder under control is essential for your health and vision. Your doctor can recommend treatment programs and therapies that may help you understand your disorder and make changes that will improve your health.

If you currently have an eating disorder, or had one in the past, it's important to see your ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye examination. During the exam, your eye doctor will examine your retina for signs of diabetic retinopathy. Should you have any symptoms of the condition, he or she can recommend treatments that may help you avoid or reduce vision loss.

Annual eye exams are a must if you have diabetes, especially if you have an eating disorder. Contact our office to schedule your exam.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diabetic Retinopathy


Anglia Ruskin University: Eating Disorders Linked to Diabetic Eye Issues, 2/23/2022


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Eating Disorders and the Patient with Diabetes, 5/5/2021


Cleveland Clinic: Diabulimia, 3/31/2022


Springer Link: Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders: Pathological Eating Behaviours and Risk of Retinopathy in Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 1/21/2022