Diabetic retinopathy occurs as a result of high blood sugar and can cause blindness if left untreated.
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that affects people with diabetes who have high blood glucose, or sugar, over a prolonged period of time. Too much blood sugar can destroy the blood vessels in the back of the eye, preventing the retina from receiving the proper amount of nutrients it needs to maintain vision.
If you're one of the nearly 24 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes, you know your body has difficulty using or producing insulin. What can you do to manage the disease? We asked Jill Crandall, MD, professor of clinical medicine and director of the diabetes clinical trials unit at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, to debunk some myths and help you learn to live well.
The retina is a light-sensitive nerve tissue at the back of the eye. As light enters the front of the eye, the retina converts the light rays into electrical impulses that travel along the optic nerve to part of the brain called the visual cortex. The brain then combines images sent from both eyes to interpret them as a single, three-dimensional image. This allows us to perceive depth and distance. Without the retina, the eye cannot communicate with the brain, making vision impossible.
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, called nonproliferative retinopathy, these blood vessels leak fluid and distort sight. In the more advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, called proliferative retinopathy, fragile new blood vessels grow around the retina and in the vitreous humor (a clear substance that fills the eye). If left untreated, these blood vessels may bleed, clouding vision or scar detaching the retina.
Anyone with diabetes -- both type 1 or type 2 diabetes -- is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. However, the type of diabetes a person has, how often their blood glucose fluctuates, how well controlled the sugars are, and how long a person has had diabetes all affects his or her risk. The better you control blood sugar levels, the lower your risk.
The National Eye Institute estimates that 40%-45% of all Americans with diabetes are affected by diabetic retinopathy, and 24,000 of them go blind each year.
What Happens if Diabetic Retinopathy Is Not Treated?
In untreated diabetic retinopathy, scar tissue that forms on the back of the retina as a result of a contraction of the new blood vessels can cause the retina to pull away from the back of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment can cause permanent blindness if left untreated.
Diabetic retinopathy can also cause macular edema. The macula is the inner part of the retina that allows for detail to be seen. When fluid from blood vessels leaks into the macula, it can swell making vision blurry.
Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!
Your level is currently
If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.
People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.
Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.
However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.
Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.
One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Thank you for signing up for the WebMD Diabetes Newsletter!
You'll find tips and tricks as well as the latest news and research on Diabetes.
Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?
Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.