Background: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of mortality among subjects with type 2 diabetes (T2D), and diabetic retinopathy (DR) has been associated with an increased risk for CVD. The present study was designed to test the concept that T2D patients with DR, but without previous cardiovascular (CV) events and with normal renal function, have an increased atherosclerotic burden compared with patients without DR.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was performed using patients with normal renal function (estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) >60 ml/min) and without previous CV events. A total of 312 patients (men, 51%; mean age, 57 yrs; age range 40-75 yrs) were included in the study; 153 (49%) of the patients had DR. B-mode carotid ultrasound imaging was performed for all of the study subjects to measure the carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) and carotid plaques in the common carotid artery (CCA), bifurcation and internal carotid artery (ICA).
Results: The percentage of carotid plaques in T2D patients with DR was higher than in T2D patients without DR (68% vs. 52.2%, p = 0.0045), and patients with DR had a higher prevalence of ≥2 carotid plaques (44.4% vs. 21.4%; p < 0.0001). No differences were observed in the cIMT measured at different carotid regions between the patients with or without DR. Using multivariate logistic regression (adjustment for major risk factors for atherosclerosis), DR was independently associated with mean-internal cIMT (p = 0.0176), with the presence of carotid plaques (p = 0.0366) and with carotid plaque burden (≥2 plaques; p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: The present study shows that DR in T2D patients without CVD and with normal renal function is associated with a higher atherosclerotic burden (presence and number of plaques) in the carotid arteries. These patients may be at a higher risk for future CV events; therefore, an ultrasound examination of the carotid arteries should be considered in patients with DR for more careful and individualised CV assessment and follow-up.