I had my annual eye scan last week. After missing my first appointment due to diarising it for the wrong day (cue pangs of guilt), I turned up at Homerton hospital on a damp Thursday morning to have my eyes photographed.
Retinopathy is a common problem for diabetics. High levels of sugar in the blood vessels damage the eyes over time, eventually leading to blindness. A 2002 study showed that almost all American adults with type 1 diabetes for 20 years and 60% of adults with type 2, had retinopathy. It is the leading cause of blindness in the under 65s. What horrific statistics!
So what can we do about it? If you’re unfortunate enough to be in the diabetes club, the good news is that if retinpathy is detected early, treatment is very successful. The NHS have an eye screening programme where every diabetic is screened every year. Given how easy it is for people to be vocal after bad experiences, I thought I’d highlight something which is going very well in our country.
I turned up at the hospital, and was very quickly given some eye drops. They stung my eyes and made my vision blurry for four hours. I’m glad my minor visual impairment was only that long. I had to wait for ten minutes for them to work (they dilate the pupil to enable the back of the eye to be photographed) and then went in to get the pictures. It was a bit like the first stage of an eye test where you have to put your chin on that thing and they shine lights into your eyes. Then I left. The whole experience took about half an hour. The worst bit about my visit was getting totally and utterly soaked on my way back to work (although I secretly enjoyed that too). Homerton perform this vital service for hundreds of diabetics a day.
Apart from seeing my consultant, my other annual check is a visit to my GP to have my feet tickled. This bizarre test is designed to diagnose diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to the feet being chopped off. It takes ten minutes of my time every year.
In my experience, these screening tests are efficient and of minimal inconvenience. They make a massive difference for morbidity in this country. So three cheers for the NHS!
Given the mathematical certainty that society will not be able to continually improve care for an aging population without going bankrupt, I’ve been having some interesting conversations recently. One theory is that everyone should pay for their own health care. One advantage of this is that people may consider the personal cost of their own actions. That daily orange juice, bag of sweets and bottle of coke don’t just cost you £3 a day – they may result in hefty medical bills, blindness and amputated limbs after you get diabetes! Whilst there is some logic to this, a society that penalises less well-off, less well educated people isn’t somewhere I want to live.
Better education has to be part of the solution. 12% of Americans and Chinese people have type 2 diabetes. For most of us type 2 is preventable with different life style decisions earlier in life. If we re-learned how to cook, avoided refined sugar, and took some kind of exercise every day, our lives would be longer. More importantly the quality of our lives would stay high for longer too. We can all make little adjustments. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Get off the bus a stop early. Buy a bag of nuts to nibble on rather than sweets. And please! – Just ditch the orange juice. Oranges are tastier and don’t cause a massive blood sugar spike. Read the nutrition information on your food occasionally. You don’t have to give up everything tasty, but by understanding the sugar content of your food, you may just steer away from those sugar highs a little bit more often, and that may allow you to enjoy life for longer.
Sorry for the rant! And thanks for making it to the end of this post.