Diabetic Retinopathy

What is a Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy, which can affect individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, is a complication of the disease that will impact the eyes. The blood vessels within the retina are damaged, so the condition can eventually lead to blindness.

If you have been suffering with diabetes for a long time, and if your blood sugar is not under control, you will be more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.

What are the Symptoms of a Diabetic Retinopathy?

When tiny blood vessels within the retina are damaged, they can leak fluids, including blood, causing swelling within the retinal tissue. Both eyes can be affected.

Symptoms include

  • Blurred or cloudy vision
  • Seeing floaters or spots
  • Experiencing difficulty when trying to see in dark conditions at night
  • Having an empty or a dark spot within the center of the visual field

Diabetic Retinopathy Causes

An excess of blood sugar can cut off the blood supply to the blood vessels that feed the retina. The eye will try and produce new blood vessels, but new blood vessels can leak and may not develop properly.

Two categories of diabetic retinopathy exist:

Early diabetic retinopathy is more common and is known as nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). This type of diagnosis is caused by the hindered growth of new blood vessels. The walls that are located in the retina weaken and small protrusions bulge from the walls of the small blood vessels, occasionally causing blood or fluid to leak into the retina. The retina contains nerve fibers that can swell, which also requires treatment.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy is a severe version of the illness. In this instance, blood vessels that are damaged close off and instigate new blood vessels that are abnormal to grow in the retina. This can eventually leak to the vitreous, the center portion of the eye that is clear and spongy.

After a while, scar tissue can cause the retina to physically detach from the rear portion of the eye. This condition can damage the optic nerve, which causes glaucoma.

How is a Diabetic Retinopathy Treated?

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy will depend upon the level of damage caused by the condition. Ultimately, treatment will be focused on slowing, as well as potentially stopping, the condition’s progression.

Those who are diagnosed with non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy that is mild or moderate in intensity might not require any treatments at first. You may only need to have your eyes examined regularly by a qualified doctor. You should also work with your endocrinologist to keep your blood sugar level under control.

Treatment includes

On the other hand, if you have been diagnosed with proliferative diabetic retinopathy, or you have macular edema, you will need surgery. Options include vitrectomy, scatter laser treatment, and focal laser treatment. However, these will only slow or stop the progression of the condition, rather than cure it. Further damage to the retina, as well as vision loss, are possible, so regularly having your eyes examined will be necessary.

Diabetic Retinopathy Prevention

Diabetic retinopathy cannot always be prevented. Keeping up on eye exams, intervening on vision problems, and controlling blood pressure and blood sugar are ways to help prevent loss of vision.

Those with diabetes should do the following to lower the risk of being diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy:

  • Manage diabetes
  • Keep an eye on blood sugar level
  • Inquire about a glycosylated hemoglobin test
  • Ensure cholesterol and blood pressure are under control
  • Quit smoking or using tobacco products
  • Observe and note changes in vision

Diabetes does not always result in loss of vision. Taking on a preventative role in the management of diabetes can typically prevent complications.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 14, 2017