What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

If you have diabetes (type 1 or type 2), you could get diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects your eyes. But your chances of getting it depend on several things:

  • The type of diabetes you have
  • How long you’ve had it
  • How often your blood glucose changes
  • How well controlled your sugars are

At first, you may not even know you have diabetic retinopathy. Or, you might just notice minor vision problems. Either way, there are things you can do to prevent it. And there are treatments to help slow it down.

Symptoms

You might not have any until your condition becomes severe. When you do start having symptoms, you might notice:

  • A loss of central vision when you read or drive
  • Inability to see colors
  • Blurry vision
  • Holes or black spots in vision

See your doctor right away if you have any of these issues.

Causes

When left untreated, diabetic retinopathy damages your retina. This is the lining at the back of your eye that transforms light into images.

If your blood glucose level (blood sugar) is too high for too long, it blocks off the small blood vessels that keep the retina healthy. Your eye will try to grow new blood vessels, but they won’t develop well. They start to weaken and leak blood and fluid into your retina. This can cause another condition doctors call macular edema, which makes your vision blurry.

As your condition gets worse, more blood vessels become blocked. Scar tissue builds up because of all the new blood vessels your eye has grown. This extra pressure can cause your retina to detach. It can also lead to glaucoma and other problems that may result in blindness.

Diagnosis

An eye doctor can usually tell if you have diabetic retinopathy during an eye exam.

He’ll probably dilate your pupils to look for any changes in blood vessels or to see if new ones have grown. He’ll also check to see if your retina is swollen or has become detached.

Continued

Treatment

Your doctor may recommend laser photocoagulation. It’s a procedure that seals or destroys growing and leaking blood vessels in the retina. It’s not painful, but it might make it harder for you to see color or to see at night.

If your blood vessels leak into your retina and vitreous humor (the jellylike substance that fills the eyeball), you may to have what doctors call a vitrectomy. This procedure removes the blood so you can see better. Without it, you’ll have cloudy vision.

Your doctor will tell you if these treatments are right for you. He’ll do them in his office or in a hospital.

 

Prevention

Work with your doctor to keep your blood sugar and blood pressure at good levels. This will help to slow down diabetic retinopathy, and may even prevent it.

Make sure you see an eye doctor at least once a year for a complete eye exam. If you have diabetes and are pregnant, you should also have a thorough eye exam during the first trimester, and follow up with an eye doctor during pregnancy. (Tell the eye doctor if you have gestational diabetes.)

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 09, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:


National Eye Institute: “Diabetic Retinopathy.”

Diabetes Care: “Diabetic retinopathy is associated with mortality and cardiovascular disease incidence: the EURODIAB prospective complications study.”

American Journal of Epidemiology: “Lower-than-Expected Prevalence and Severity of Retinopathy in an Incident Cohort followed during the First 4-14 Years of Type 1 Diabetes.”

New England Journal of Medicine: “Angiogenic Pathways in Diabetic Retinopathy.”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination