Scotland’s obesity epidemic could be damaging the eyesight of young adults, according to new research.
Clinicians at NHS Fife and the University of St Andrews examined patients with a condition called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH).
The condition which can damage sight nerves, is caused by being overweight.
It mainly affects young overweight females, and can lead to irreversible sight loss.
The researchers whose paper is published in the Scottish Medical Journal, studied all patients presenting to NHS Fife over a 12-month period with IIH.
Obesity in Fife
Headaches are the most common symptom and are caused by high pressure within the brain which can damage the nerves of sight.
The paper linked the high levels of IIH in Fife with the fact that the county has a higher rate of obesity than the Scottish average.
Dr Colin Goudie, ophthalmology registrar at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh, who conducted the research, said: “The incidence of IIH in Fife was significantly higher than previous estimates and we believe this is due to the high levels of obesity in the region.
“We found that the incidence of IIH in Fife was between two and six times higher than previously reported from other studies performed in similarly developed nations.”
Scottish government figures showed 65% of the adult population was recorded as being overweight in 2017.
This was defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25. Of these 29% were classed as clinically obese, having a BMI of over 30.
The major risk factor for developing IIH is being overweight. In the Fife study more than three-quarters were clinically obese, with all the rest being overweight.
No-one of normal health weight presented with the condition, with all those affected being female except one.
Consultant ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Blaikie, senior Lecturer at St Andrews University medical school , who oversaw the project, said: “Scotland has one of the worst records for obesity in the developed world and the prevalence of obesity in Fife is higher than the Scottish average.
“We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and if this continues we will see IIH becoming more common, increasing the risk of a small but significant number of young people losing vision.”
He said the primary treatment was to lose weight and achieve a normal BMI, although medicines and even surgery could be used to prevent any long-term damage to sight and improve symptoms of headache.
But he warned some patients can still develop rapidly progressive and permanent vision loss despite prompt treatment.