It has been suggested that joint contractures may be an early marker of microangiopathy, especially retinopathy, in diabetic patients. To investigate this possibility, the prevalence of contractures of the finger joints, as assessed by the painted hand technique, was compared in 106 diabetic patients without, and 105 with retinopathy (proliferative in 66%). There was an increased prevalence of contractures in those with diabetes (25.2%) as compared with an age-matched control of 106 subjects (7.5%, P less than 0.01). The prevalence of contractures was similar in those diabetics with and without retinopathy (29.5% v. 20.8%, P less than 0.1), and did not vary with the type of retinopathy. The contracture prevalence rate was also similar in those with a diabetes duration of 5 or more years (retinopathy 29.3%, no retinopathy, 30%) or of similar diabetic duration (retinopathy 20.8%, no retinopathy, 25%). Diabetic control, as assessed by HbA1, was similar in retinopathic patients with or without contractures. We conclude that although finger joint contractures are more prevalent in adult diabetic patients, they are not necessarily a reliable early indicator of the development of retinopathy of any specific type.
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