Diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, and cardiovascular risk: the importance of a long-term perspective and a multidisciplinary approach to optimal intravitreal therapy


Diabetic retinopathy (DR), diabetic macular edema (DME), and cardiovascular disease (CVD) resulting from vascular damage from persistently elevated blood glucose levels are among the serious secondary pathologies associated with long-standing diabetes mellitus. The established link between DR and CVD suggests the need for appropriate and early management of patients with diabetes to minimize CV risk. This is of particular importance in patients with recent, or a history of, major CV events. Early management of DR is a complex task that requires comprehensive evaluation and a multidisciplinary approach to manage complications, risk factors, and interactions between different aspects of the disease. Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) agents have become an important therapeutic modality in ophthalmology. However, their use is contraindicated in patients with DR and/or DME with a CV event in the previous 3 months. In patients with DME, corticosteroids target the multifaceted inflammatory pathways involved in the pathogenesis of DR, with a broader spectrum of action than anti-VEGF agents. In this context, recent guidelines suggest the use of corticosteroids, and in particular dexamethasone intravitreal implant, as a well-tolerated and efficacious first-line treatment in patients with high CV risk, such as a history of or recent major CV events. This review focuses on the subset of diabetic patients with a prior CV event, DR, and DME and discusses the need for a holistic approach in evaluating the optimal therapeutic choice for the care of the individual patient, supported by real-world clinical experience on long-term dexamethasone intravitreal implant therapy.

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Fig. 1

Modified from Schramm et al. [4]

Fig. 2

Modified from Jernberg et al. [19]

Fig. 3

Modified from Avery et al. [34]

Fig. 4

Modified from Avery et al. [34]

Fig. 5

Reproduced from Chen et al. [35]

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no datasets were generated or analyzed during the current study.


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We thank Ray Hill, an independent medical writer, who provided English language editing and journal styling prior to submission on behalf of Health Publishing & Services Srl and funded by Allergan SpA, Italy. All authors met the ICMJE authorship criteria. Neither honoraria nor payments were made for authorship.

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All authors contributed to the review conception and design of the literature search. All authors contributed to the drafting and critical revision of the manuscript, commented on previous versions of the manuscript, and read and approved the final manuscript prior to submission.

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Correspondence to Francesco Bandello.

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Francesco Bandello has acted as a consultant for Allergan, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Fidia Sooft, Hoffmann La Roche, Novartis, NTC Pharma, SIFI, Thrombogenics, and Zeiss. Danilo Toni has received honoraria from Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sankyo, and Medtronic. Massimo Porta has received Advisory Board fees from Novartis, SIFI, and Allergan. Monica Varano has received Advisory Board fees from Novartis, Bayer, SIFI, and Allergan.

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This article belongs to the topical collection Eye Complications of Diabetes managed by Giuseppe Querques.

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Bandello, F., Toni, D., Porta, M. et al. Diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, and cardiovascular risk: the importance of a long-term perspective and a multidisciplinary approach to optimal intravitreal therapy. Acta Diabetol 57, 513–526 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00592-019-01453-z

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  • Diabetic retinopathy (DR)
  • Diabetic macular edema (DME)
  • Anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) agents
  • Corticosteroids
  • Cardiovascular (CV) risk