Diabetic Retinopathy Definition Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that results from damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, diabetic retinopathy can result in blindness. In the United States, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in adults.
Diabetic Retinopathy Facts Diabetic retinopathy can happen to anyone who has type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. In fact, up to 45 percent of adults diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, according to the National Eye Institute. And the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic Retinopathy Risk Factors Most people don't develop diabetic retinopathy until they've had diabetes for at least 10 years. However, adult onset (type 2) diabetics should be evaluated at the time of diagnosis and every year thereafter, whereas juvenile onset (type 1) diabetics should be evaluated five years after diagnosis and every year thereafter, at a minimum. The risk is higher if you: Have poor control of your blood sugar level Have high blood pressure Have high cholesterol Are pregnant Are black or Hispanic Smoke
Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms You can have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. In fact, symptoms are unusual in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. As the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include: Spots floating in your vision Blurred vision Dark streaks or a red film that blocks your vision Poor night vision Vision loss Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
Diabetic Retinopathy Stages Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy In this early stage, blood vessels swell and sometimes bulge or balloon (aneurysm). The vessels may leak fluid that can build up in the retina and cause swelling. This condition is called macular edema, and it changes the vision of individuals with the disease. The blurriness is sometimes compared to trying to look through water. The fluid deposits that build up in the retina may clear up on their own, but fatty deposits sometimes remain that can affect vision. Later, vessels may begin to bleed inside the retina.
Diabetic Retinopathy Stages Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy In many cases, the small blood vessels close down, and new, unhealthy blood vessels grow. These unhealthy blood vessels are not able to feed the retina. The unwanted blood vessels can grow on the back of the vitreous and may also bleed into the vitreous. This bleeding may cause dark spots (floaters), strands that look like cobwebs, or clouded vision. As vessels heal, scar tissue may also grow. The scar tissue sometimes pulls the retina away from the back of the eye. As a result, the retina can tear or come completely loose from the eye. A detached or torn retina may result in serious loss of sight or even blindness.
Treatment Controlling blood sugar levels Photocoagulation (Laser surgery) : A common treatment for some forms of retinopathy is photocoagulation. In this procedure, the doctor uses a laser to seal leaking or bleeding vessels. During the treatment, the laser beam is carefully aimed at problem areas. Scatter laser treatment: can shrink the abnormal blood vessel. During the procedure, the areas of the retina away from the macula are treated with scattered laser burns. The burns cause the new blood vessels to shrink and disappear. Some loss of peripheral vision or night vision after the procedure is possible. Vitrectomy: Another treatment for some advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy is vitrectomy. It is used when there is unhealthy vessel growth and bleeding. During this operation, the doctor uses a small suction tool to take out the vitreous jelly containing blood and scar tissue strands inside the eye. At the same time, the doctor uses fluid to replace the vitreous in the patient's eye.
What research is being done? Researchers are studying drugs that may stop the retina from sending signals to the body to grow new blood vessels. Someday, these drugs may help people control their diabetic retinopathy and reduce the need for laser surgery.
Reference List All About Vision. Diabetic Retinopathy: Frequently Asked Questions. Reviewed by Chris A. Knobbe, MD. Retrieved July 27, 2009, from Bailey, G and Lee, J. Diabetic Retinopathy. Retrieved July 27, 2009, from Comprehensive Medical Eye Center. Retrieved July 27, 2009 from CS Optical; Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved July 27, 2009 from Mayo Clinic; Diabetic Retinopathy. Retrieved July 27, 2009, from Prevent Blindness America. Diabetic Retinopathy/Stages. Retrieved July 27, 2009 from