Diabetes Forecast

Bariatric Surgery Lowers Diabetic Retinopathy Risk

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What to Know

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss in adults between the ages of 20 and 74. More than a third of the estimated 285 million people worldwide who have some form of diabetes also show signs of retinopathy. Some research suggests that obese people with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of retinopathy than others. Could bariatric surgery for weight loss reduce the risk of vision loss in obese people with diabetes? This study examined previously published research in an attempt to answer that question.

The Study

Researchers in Italy combed the scientific literature for studies that compared medical and surgical treatments for preventing or slowing the development of diabetic retinopathy in obese people with type 2 diabetes. In all, they found seven studies that met their criteria. The studies involved 2,966 participants and were published between 2013 and 2016.

The Results

All but one of the studies showed that obese people with type 2 diabetes who underwent bariatric surgery were less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than those who received standard medical treatment for diabetes. However, surgery had no impact on the progression of diabetic retinopathy if it was present before the procedure: In other words, bariatric surgery prevented but did not slow, halt, or reverse the condition.


If you are a candidate for bariatric surgery, the procedure may help protect your eyes in addition to other benefits it may provide, such as a boost in life expectancy, a reduced risk of heart disease, improved kidney function, and even remission of type 2 diabetes. This study drew on a small amount of research, and its authors recommend that a large and lengthy study be done to confirm their findings. They also would like to see research that determines which type of bariatric surgery would most effectively prevent diabetic retinopathy. Keep up with your annual eye exams, which can catch problems before you notice symptoms. Early detection and treatment can prevent blindness. If you have retinopathy, talk to your ophthalmologist or retinologist about treatments to slow its progression and improve vision.

Bariatric surgery and diabetic retinopathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical studies.” C. Merlotti, V. Ceriani, A. Morabito and A. E. Pontiroli. Obesity Reviews, January 2017; 18: 309–316.

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



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