Blind World

High glucose levels "increase risk retinal disease."

May 6, 2003.

Health Newswire Professional.

US researchers have demonstrated a link between high blood sugar levels and retinal damage in premature babies.

The retrospective study is believed to be the first to establish a link between hyperglycaemia and retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition marked by abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center compared 16 premature infants who developed ROP and 31 healthy infants of similar gestational age, weight and year of birth. An average of five glucose measurements were taken daily for the first month of life, and ophthalmology screening was undertaken within the babies' first six weeks.

Compared to controls, ROP infants had higher average glucose readings, more variable daily glucose readings and more episodes when glucose levels exceeded the upper normal range.

The well-established link between high oxygen levels and ROP was confirmed by the researchers, who added that even the smallest increase in supplemental oxygen increased babies' ROP risk.

Blood transfusion, frequent blood gas measurements and ventilator use are other known risk factors for ROP.

ROP has similar features to adult diabetic retinopathy, for which hyperglycaemia is a major risk factor. "If glucose is truly related to the pathogenesis of ROP then we may be able to reduce the risk using tighter glucose control in the first few months," explains the study's senior author Dr Christoph Lehmann.

Further research is needed, says Dr Lehmann, to discover if high glucose is an independent risk factor for the development of ROP or if, like the number of blood transfusions, it is a marker of illness severity.

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