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Diabetic Retinopathy - Treatment Overview

There is no cure for diabetic retinopathy. But laser treatment (photocoagulation) is usually very effective at preventing vision loss if it is done before the retina has been severely damaged. Surgical removal of the vitreous gel (vitrectomy) may also help improve vision if the retina has not been severely damaged. Sometimes injections of an anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) medicine or an anti-inflammatory medicine help to shrink new blood vessels in proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Because symptoms may not develop until the disease becomes severe, early detection through regular screening is important. The earlier retinopathy is detected, the easier it is to treat and the more likely vision will be preserved.

You may not need treatment for diabetic retinopathy unless it has affected the center (macula) of the retina or, in rare cases, if your side (peripheral) vision has been severely damaged. But you do need to have your vision checked regularly.

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If the macula has been damaged by macular edema, you may need laser treatment. For more severe retinopathy, you may need either laser treatment or vitrectomy. These procedures can help prevent, stabilize, or slow vision loss when they are done before the retina has been severely damaged. Newer treatment includes medicines like anti-VEGF medicine or steroids that are injected into the eye.

Surgical removal of the vitreous gel (vitrectomy) is done when there is bleeding (vitreous hemorrhage) or retinal detachment, which are rare in people with early-stage retinopathy. Vitrectomy is also done when severe scar tissue has formed.

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy is often very effective in preventing, delaying, or reducing vision loss. But it is not a cure for the disease. People who have been treated for diabetic retinopathy need to be monitored frequently by an eye doctor to check for new changes in their eyes. Many people with diabetic retinopathy need to be treated more than once as the condition gets worse.

Also, controlling your blood sugar levels is always important. This is true even if you have been treated for diabetic retinopathy and your eyes are better. In fact, good blood sugar control is especially important in this case so that you can help keep your retinopathy from getting worse.

Ideally, laser treatment should be done early in the course of the disease to prevent serious vision loss rather than to try to treat serious vision loss after it has already developed.

People with diabetes who have any signs of retinopathy need to be examined as soon as possible by an ophthalmologist.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 27, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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