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.
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