What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes
and a leading cause of blindness. It occurs when
diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the
retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the
eye. (See diagram below.) A healthy retina is necessary
for good vision. If you have diabetic retinopathy, at
first you may not notice changes to your vision. But
over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause
vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both
What are the stages
of diabetic retinopathy?
AMD occurs in two forms: wet and dry.
Diabetic retinopathy has four stages:
Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy - At this earliest
stage, microaneurysms occur, which are small areas
of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood
Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy - As the disease
progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina
Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy - Many more blood
vessels are blocked, depriving several areas of the
retina with their blood supply. These areas of the
retina send signals to the body to grow new blood
vessels for nourishment.
Proliferative Retinopathy - At this advanced stage, the
signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the
growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called
proliferative retinopathy. These new blood vessels are
abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and
along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills
the inside of the eye. (See diagram above.) By
themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or
vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If
they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness
Who is at risk for diabetic retinopathy?
All people with diabetes - both type 1 and type 2 - are
at risk. That is why everyone with diabetes should get a
comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. Between 40
to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have
some stage of diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetic
retinopathy, your doctor can recommend treatment to help
prevent its progression. During pregnancy, diabetic
retinopathy may be a problem for women with diabetes. To
protect vision, every pregnant woman with diabetes
should have a comprehensive eye exam as soon as
possible. Your doctor may recommend additional exams
during your pregnancy.
How does diabetic retinopathy cause vision loss?
Blood vessels damaged from diabetic retinopathy can
cause vision loss in two ways:
Fragile, abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak
blood into the center of the eye, blurring vision. This
is proliferative retinopathy and it is the fourth and
most advanced stage of the disease.
Fluid can leak into the center of the macula, the part
of the eye where sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs.
The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This
condition is called macular edema. It can occur at any
stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more
likely to occur as the disease progresses. About half of
the people with proliferative retinopathy also have
Does diabetic retinopathy have any symptoms?
Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs.
Don't wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive
dilated eye exam at least once a year.
thumbnails to view full size images
Non-proliferative DR with Chronic Cystic Macular
Non-proliferative DR with single hemorrhage
Non-proliferative DR and Branch Retinal Vein
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