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New Tricks for Finding Hidden Eye Disease

eyes, visionAn imaging analysis technique, developed to detect defects in semiconductors, is being used to diagnose the eye problems associated with diabetes over the Internet.

Pictures of patients' retinas (the inner surface of the eye) are uploaded to a server that compares them to a database of thousands of other images of healthy and diseased eyes. Algorithms can assign a disease level to the new eye image by looking at factors such as damage to blood vessels.

Right now, an ophthalmologist double checks the system's work, but the algorithms could be diagnosing patients on its own within three months. In other words, it will go beyond telemedicine, in which physicians connect to patients through data networks, to automated medicine.

There are many advantages to this -- patients get faster, cheaper care and doctors can spend their time treating patients that have already been identified as having a problem.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Most of you are aware that I am a great fan of technology, especially when it is applied to improve your health.

Automated diagnosis, the kind that takes place without a doctor being present, isn’t widely accepted or used in the health care field, largely because in most cases there are far too many variables, for a computer to be accurate.

However  diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative eye condition that can cause vision loss in people with diabetes, appears to be an exception.

Ophthalmologist Edward Chaum of the University of Tennessee has essentially transferred his knowledge of what to look for to detect diabetic retinopathy in patients’ retinal images to a computer program.

A patient’s eye photo is then uploaded to the server and compared to a database of thousands of other images of healthy and diseases eyes. Algorithms are used to assign a disease level to the retinal images, which are especially suitable for computer analysis because they have well-defined areas of light and dark that a computer can easily distinguish.

The automated system can reportedly correctly identify the images in 90-98 percent of diabetic patients, and even labels them on a retinopathy disease scale from healthy to severe.

This is one instance where it seems this new technology could really shine.

Why could this automated system be so useful?

Essentially it takes the doctor out of the equation, at least initially. This allows for a greatly accelerated and far less expensive process than a human diagnosis.

This could not only save countless unnecessary doctor’s appointments, but it could help someone receive assistance who might not have done so otherwise. In the case of diabetic retinopathy, for instance, because diabetes rates are growing at such enormous rates, the number of people needing to be screened for this eye disease could overwhelm the number of ophthalmologists available, especially in rural or poor areas.

While I’m not always a fan of rushing to your doctor, if left untreated diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness and other problems, and it shouldn’t be ignored.

A Brief Overview of Diabetic Retinopathy

Nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population, or 24 million people, has diabetes, and another 57 million have pre-diabetes, which puts them at an increased risk of the disease.

Aside from increasing your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, skin disorders and nerve damage, diabetes can cause serious eye problems, including diabetic retinopathy.

In diabetic retinopathy, high levels of sugar in your blood damage blood vessels in your eyes. When your body tries to repair this damage, it creates new capillaries. But the capillaries often grow in the wrong place, worsening the condition.

At first the disorder may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems, but it can progress to blindness. This disorder is actually one of the leading causes of blindness in adults in the United States, and up to 45 percent of U.S. adults diagnosed with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, according to the National Eye Institute.

The longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of diabetic retinopathy becomes, and once damage to your vision has occurred it can be difficult to treat.

How to Protect Your Vision if You Have Diabetes

The best route you have to protecting your eyes if you have diabetes is to control your insulin levels through optimal diet and exercise ASAP.
And there’s good news because type 2 diabetes is virtually 100 percent reversible and avoidable by doing the following two things:

1. Exercising frequently
2. Adopting an eating plan that emphasizes good fats, protein and non-grain carbohydrates (vegetables) -- and AVOIDS sugars and grains

For even more detailed information, please see my diabetes resource page, How to Finally make Type 2 Diabetes Disappear, and start to follow the lifestyle program explained in Take Control of Your Health.

+ Sources and References