What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Nearly 30 million Americans are living with diabetes, are you one of them? Without proper management of the disease, diabetes can lead to serious health complications, including nerve damage and eye problems that could cost you your vision. 

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of diabetes. All types of diabetic eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma can cause severe vision loss or even blindness. However, diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease and is the leading cause of blindness in the world. 

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition caused by diabetes. It occurs when the blood vessels in the back of the eye weaken and leak fluid or when abnormal vessels grow on the surface of the retina, which may hemorrhage.

The National Eye Institute estimates that 40 to 45 percent of all Americans with diabetes have some form of diabetic retinopathy, and at least five percent of diabetics have a severe case of diabetic eye disease. The incidence of diabetic retinopathy is typically associated with the type of diabetes, how often blood sugar fluctuates, and how long one has been living with diabetes — the longer a patient has had diabetes, the greater his or her chances of developing diabetic retinopathy.

The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy range from minor symptoms such as fluctuation of vision (related to fluctuation of blood glucose levels) to severe symptoms such as bleeding in the back of the eye. In some cases, there may be no symptoms at all.

Because symptoms do not typically present until the condition is severe, it is crucial that diabetics maintain regular eye exams.

Four Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy. In this early stage, small areas of balloon-like swelling (called microaneurysms) occur in the retina’s blood vessels.

Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy. As the disease progresses to this stage, some blood vessels that carry vital nutrients to the retina become blocked.

Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy. More blood vessels become blocked and the retina responds by sending signals to the body to grow more blood vessels.

Proliferative Retinopathy. Proliferative retinopathy occurs when new, fragile blood vessels develop on the retina. This condition is usually treated with laser surgery to help shrink the abnormal blood vessels. These treatments work better before the fragile new blood vessels have started to bleed. Even if bleeding has started, diabetic laser treatments may still be possible, depending on the amount of bleeding. If the bleeding is severe, you may need a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy.

Who Is At Risk?

Diabetic retinopathy is the result of diabetes, but not all diabetics will develop the eye condition. Some diabetics are at higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. These risk factors include:

  • Poor management of diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Lack of preventative eye care

If you have diabetes, get a comprehensive eye exam once a year. Contact The Eye Center, P.A. to schedule an appointment today.

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