Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that involves the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. High blood sugar can cause the retinal blood vessels to leak and bleed, resulting in vision loss, glaucoma, and retinal detachments.
There are two types, non-proliferative and proliferative, depending whether the diabetic retinopathy causes the proliferation (i.e. formation) of new, abnormal blood vessels.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs in over half of people that have diabetes. It is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in America. For this reason, it is critical that everyone with diabetes gets a dilated eye exam at least once per year to detect and treat diabetic retinopathy early if it develops.
Everyone that has diabetes, including Type I, Type II, and Gestational Diabetes, is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The strongest risk factors are duration of disease and poor blood sugar control. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney disease.
Diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms until significant damage has occurred. At that point, symptoms might include:
Blurred or distorted vision
New spots or “floaters”
If you experience these symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately.
The best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to control your diabetes through a healthy diet, daily exercise, and medications prescribed by your Primary Care Physician. You can access resources through the American Diabetes Association website here.
The best way to detect diabetic retinopathy is a dilated eye exam. Your doctor will look for:
Additional testing might include ocular coherence tomography (OCT) and fluorescein angiography (FA) to detect subtle leaking and new, abnormal blood vessels.
The most common treatments are laser and intravitreal (in-the-eye) injections. If there is bleeding into the vitreous jelly in the eye, then vitrectomy surgery can be done to remove the jelly and clear the bleeding.