Background: Diabetes and its complications are more common in American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) than other US racial/ethnic populations. Prior reports of diabetic retinopathy (DR) prevalence in AI/AN are dated, and research on diabetic macular edema (DME) is limited. This study characterizes the recent prevalence of DR and DME in AI/AN using primary care-based teleophthalmology surveillance.
Methods: This is a multi-site, clinic-based, cross-sectional study of DR and DME. The sample is composed of AI /AN patients with diabetes (n = 53,998), served by the nationally distributed Indian Health Service-Joslin Vision Network Teleophthalmology Program (IHS-JVN) in primary care clinics of US Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal, and Urban Indian health care facilities (I/T/U) from 1 November 2011 to 31 October 2016. Patients were recruited opportunistically for a retinal examination using the IHS-JVN during their regular diabetes care. The IHS-JVN used clinically validated, non-mydriatic, retinal imaging and retinopathy assessment protocols to identify the severity levels of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), DME, and sight threatening retinopathy (STR; a composite measure). Key social-demographic (age, gender, IHS area), diabetes-related health (diabetes therapy, duration of diabetes, A1c), and imaging technology variables were examined. The analysis calculated frequencies and percentages of severity levels of disease.
Results: Prevalence of any NPDR, PDR, DME, and STR among AI/AN patients undergoing DR teleophthalmology surveillance by IHS-JVN was 17.7%, 2.3%, 2.3%, and 4.2%, respectively. Prevalence was lowest in Alaska and highest among patients with A1c >/ = 8%, duration of diabetes > 10 years, or using insulin.
Conclusions: Prevalence of DR in this cohort was approximately half that in previous reports for AI/AN, and prevalence of DME was less than that reported in non-AI/AN populations. A similar reduction in diabetes related end-stage renal disease in the same population and time period has been reported by other researchers. Since these two diabetic complications share a common microvasculopathic mechanism, this coincident change in prevalence may also share a common basis, possibly related to improved diabetes management.