MONDAY, July 14, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanic Americans with type 2 diabetes are less likely to have regular eye exams compared with Hispanics nationally, a new study finds.
Many may have no idea that blindness is a leading complication of diabetes and that regular check-ups can help prevent this devastating condition, the researchers added.
While type 2 diabetes has become epidemic in general, Hispanics bear a disproportionate brunt of the disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, 20 percent of Hispanics over 40 have the disease, as compared with 7.8 percent of the overall population, and a full half of these have retinopathy (damage to the retina), a complication of diabetes.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute, in Baltimore, are concerned because minority groups tend to access the health-care system less frequently. Hispanics might also be more vulnerable to the myriad complications of diabetes, including blindness, heart disease and loss of limbs.
Many individuals -- members of minority groups or otherwise -- don't even know they have this "silent disease," even if they already have tell-tale signs of retinopathy, the experts said.
The authors of the paper, which is published in the July issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, interviewed 349 Hispanic individuals without diabetes and 204 Hispanic individuals with diabetes.
Half of the respondents reporting experiencing language barriers when it came to health care.
Only 18 percent of individuals without diabetes and no family history of the disease knew that eye problems could be a complication of diabetes, compared with 29 percent of non-diabetics with a family history, 36 percent of recently diagnosed diabetics and 52 percent of diabetics who had been diagnosed more than a year before.
Few respondents knew that controlling diabetes could prevent eye problems: 16 percent of non-diabetics with no family history, 28 percent of non-diabetics with a family history, 13 percent of newly diagnosed individuals and 34 percent of less recently diagnosed.
Perhaps most troubling, almost half of those who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes more than a year prior and 79 percent of those newly diagnosed had never had a dilated eye exam, which can detect problems before it's too late.
Only 30 percent of respondents with diabetes had undergone an eye exam in the past year, compared with 70 percent to 75 percent of Hispanics nationally.
There's more on diabetes among Hispanics at the National Diabetes Education Program.