Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Most patients develop diabetic changes in the retina after approximately 5-20 years. The effect of diabetes on the eye is called diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in young and middle-aged adults today. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater their chance of developing diabetic retinopathy. There are two types of diabetic retinopathy.

What are the two types of diabetic retinopathy?

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR): Also known as background retinopathy, is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy and occurs when the tiny blood vessels of the retina are damaged and begin to bleed or leak fluid into the retina resulting in swelling (diabetic macular edema) and the formation of deposits known as exudates. Many people with diabetes develop mild NPDR often without any visual symptoms.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR): PDR carries the greatest risk of loss of vision and typically develops in eyes with advanced NPDR. PDR occurs when blood vessels on the retina or optic nerve become blocked consequently starving the retina of necessary nutrients. New, fragile, vessels develop as the circulatory system attempts to maintain adequate oxygen levels within the retina. Unfortunately, these delicate vessels hemorrhage easily. Blood may leak into the retina and vitreous, causing spots or floaters, along with decreased vision.

What problems often accompany PDR?

  • Vitreous hemorrhage: Proliferating retinal blood vessels grow into the vitreous cavity and break down. Both the hemorrhaging and resultant scar tissue may interfere with vision.
  • Traditional retinal detachment: Scar tissue in the vitreous and on the retina cause the retina to detach.
  • Tractional and rhegmatogenous retinal detachment: Scar tissue creates a hole or tear in the retina causing it to detach.
  • Neovascular glaucoma: Abnormal blood vessel growth on the iris blocks the flow of fluid out of the eye causing the pressure to increase and damaging the optic nerve.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Generally, people with mild NPDR do not have any visual loss. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect changes inside the eye before loss of vision begins. People with PDR experience a broader range of symptoms:

  • See dark floaters
  • Experience loss of central or peripheral vision
  • Experience visual distortions or blurriness
  • Experience temporary or permanent vision loss

Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented?

Researchers have found that diabetic patients who are able to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels have fewer eye problems than those with poor control. Diet and exercise play important roles in the overall health of those with diabetes.

Diabetics can also greatly reduce the possibilities of eye complications by scheduling routine examinations with an ophthalmologist. Many problems can be treated with much greater success when caught early.

What are some common retinal diseases and conditions?

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical care and should not be used as a substitute for a physician's advice or diagnosis. San Antonio Eye Center is not liable for any outcome or damages resulting from information obtained in this website in either an indirect or direct form.