Diabetic Retinopathy
Macular Degeneration

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the eye. When blood vessels in the retina are damaged, they leak fluid or blood, and grow fragile, brush-like branches and scar tissue. This can blur or distort the images that the retina sends to the brain.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the United States. People with untreated diabetes are said to be 25 times more at risk for blindness than the general population. The longer a person has diabetes, the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases. About 80% of the people who have had diabetes for at least 15 years have some blood vessel damage to their retina. People with Type I, or juvenile, diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy at a younger age.

Background Diabetic Retinopathy

Background retinopathy is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, tiny blood vessels within the retina become damaged and leak blood or fluid. Leaking fluid causes the retina to swell or to form deposits called exudates. Sometimes the leaking fluid collects in the macula, the part of the retina that lets us see fine details, like letters or numbers. This problem is called macular edema. Reading and close work may become more difficult because of this condition.

Diabetic Macular Edema

Proliferative retinopathy describes the changes that occur when new, abnormal blood vessels begin growing on the surface of the retina. The abnormal growth is called neovascularization. These new blood vessels have weaker walls and may break and bleed. The vitreous is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye. Leaking blood can cloud the vitreous and partially block the light passing through the pupil towards the retina, causing blurred and distorted images. These abnormal blood vessels may grow scar tissue that can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment. If left untreated, a retinal detachment can cause severe vision loss.

Proliferative DR



There are usually no symptoms of background retinopathy, although gradual blurring of vision may occur if macular edema is present. You may never notice changes in your vision. A medical examination is the only way to find changes inside your eye. When bleeding occurs, your sight may become hazy, spotty or even disappear altogether. While there is no pain, proliferative retinopathy is a severe form of the disease and requires immediate medical attention.

The best protection against diabetic retinopathy is to have regular medical eye examinations by your ophthalmologist. In many cases treatment is not necessary, but you will need to continue having regular eye exams. In other cases, treatment is recommenced to stop the damage of diabetic retinopathy and improve sight whenever possible. Laser surgery is often helpful in treating diabetic retinopathy.

Treated Diabetic Retinopathy

Normal Retina