WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The National Institutes of Health estimates 93 million people worldwide have diabetic retinopathy. It's the result of damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. They leak blood and other fluids that cause swelling of retinal tissue, clouding of vision and scar tissue. This is a direct result of Type 1 or 2 diabetes and can lead to blindness.
Dr. Gayatri Reilly of the Retina Group of Washington travels overseas to help patients who are now at high risk. Dr. Reilly says, "The difference between there and the United States is that the patient population is only just now getting diagnosed with diabetes."
Dr. Reilly just returned from the Caribbean where patients lined up for treatment. She used a laser treatment for the more advanced cases, designed to treat the scar tissue and bleeding inside the eyes.
"So it's not been a problem there 20 years ago. Diet has changed. It has gotten to become more westernized. Fast food has been implicated certainly with the increased weight there," adds Dr. Reilly
Eye problems from diabetes can also include cataracts and glaucoma. The explosion of diabetes worldwide can be overwhelming in areas with limited resources-- which is why the help from colleagues here in Washington is greatly appreciated.
Dr. Reilly says, "People can go blind worldwide from something as simple as a cataract that can take 10, 15 minutes to fix. We have this opportunity to really try to make a difference worldwide."
On this medical mission, Dr. Reilly helped patients in Turks and Caicos and her colleagues provided help in Nepal, Thailand, and Rwanda. Her next trip will be this Summer.