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Diabetic Retinopathy



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 eyes.
 

What are the stages of diabetic retinopathy?

AMD occurs in two forms: wet and dry.

Diabetic retinopathy has four stages:

       Stage 1: Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy - At this earliest stage, microaneurysms occur, which are small  areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood vessels.

       Stage 2: Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy - As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.

       Stage 3: 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.

       Stage 4: 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 can result.

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 macular edema.
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.

Click thumbnails to view full size images

Diabetic Retinopathy
(early)
 Diabetic Retinopathy Non-proliferative DR with Chronic Cystic Macular Edema Non-proliferative DR with single hemorrhage Non-proliferative DR and Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion

Information also available for age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

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