Objective Previous reports have indicated that serum bilirubin levels may be associated with diabetic retinopathy. However, the detailed mechanism is not fully understood. In this study, we evaluated the relationship between the severity of diabetic retinopathy and various factors including bilirubin levels and factors influencing bilirubin metabolism. Methods The study participants consisted of 94 consecutive patients with diabetes mellitus admitted to Kyushu University Hospital from April 2011 to July 2012. The patients were classified into three groups: no retinopathy (NDR), simple retinopathy (SDR), and pre-proliferative or proliferative retinopathy (PDR). The relationship between the severity of retinopathy and various factors was evaluated using univariate and logistic regression analyses. In addition, multivariate regression analysis was performed to evaluate the significant determinants for bilirubin levels. Results In univariate analysis, a significant difference was found among NDR, SDR and PDR in bilirubin levels, duration of diabetes, systolic blood pressure, and macroalbuminuria. Logistic regression analysis showed that PDR was significantly associated with bilirubin levels, duration of diabetes, and systolic blood pressure (OR 0.737, 95% CI 0.570–0.952, P = 0.012; OR 1.085, 95% CI 1.024–1.149, P = 0.006; OR 1.036, 95% CI 1.011–1.062, P = 0.005, respectively). In turn, multivariate regression analysis showed that bilirubin levels were negatively associated with high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels and PDR, but positively correlated with urinary biopyrrin levels, oxidized metabolites of bilirubin. Conclusion PDR was negatively associated with bilirubin levels. This negative association may be due to a decreased production of bilirubin rather than its increased consumption considering the positive association between bilirubin and biopyrrin levels.
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