Link Between Heart, Eye Damage in Type 1 Diabetes Discovered

The mechanisms of blood vessel damage from diabetes may affect damage to the heart and eyes.

Patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D) are at risk for blood vessel damage to the kidneys, eyes, heart, and other organs due to uncontrolled levels of glucose in their blood.

The damage was originally believed to be inflicted by different mechanisms of each individual organ; however, similar mechanisms may be causing damage to blood vessels of the heart and eye, according to a study published by Diabetes Care.

These findings could help researchers develop a new way to prevent and treat diabetes-related complications in the future.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among patients with T1D, while patients with kidney disease have a much higher chance of developing heart disease, according to the authors.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy has also been linked to cardiovascular disease among patients with T1D.

Identifying the relationship between eye complications and cardiovascular disease was challenging, as most patients with chronic kidney disease also have eye damage, according to the authors.

The study examined hundreds of patients who have lived with diabetes for more than 50 years. Out of these patients, the authors only found 30 who had chronic kidney disease but did not experience eye damage.

The authors were surprised to find that patients with kidney disease did not particularly have higher rates of cardiovascular disease.

“This is an unexpected finding,” said corresponding author George King, MD. “It suggests that biological factors that either protect against or boost damage to blood vessels are shared between the eye and cardiovascular system, but they may be different from those affecting the kidney.”

The authors then confirmed their findings by investigating data from The Finnish Diabetic Nephropathy study.

This study, which began in 1997, has collected genetic and physical information from more than 5500 patients who have had diabetes for at least 25 years. The results showed that the onset of kidney failure will usually occur in patients with T1D who are predisposed to it.

The study also confirmed that high glucose levels do not damage all blood vessels in the same way, according to the authors.

The authors noted that there was no link between cardiovascular damage and nerve damage, while eye damage appeared to be correlated with cardiovascular damage. This further suggests that the injuries to the blood vessels of the eye and heart may be caused by the same mechanisms, according to the study.

Continuing forward, the authors plan to examine heart scans to find a connection between heart damage and damage to other organs.

“We hope that will give us the next set of clues to understand and guard against these complications,” Dr King said.