What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common complications of diabetes. It is a condition which affects the retina, the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye. Many diabetics suffer from some level of diabetic retinopathy, and if it is left untreated, it can lead to blindness or severe vision problems. Many of the severe symptoms can be avoided with proper medical care, making routine eye examinations a must for people with diabetes, as this condition is almost inevitable in people who have been living with diabetes for more than 20 years.

The retina transforms light into neural signals.
The retina transforms light into neural signals.

This condition is caused by problems with the circulation, a common problem when blood sugar levels are allowed to get too high. Circulatory problems cause bleeding in the eye, which can cloud the vision, along with contributing to the development of small blood vessels which reach into the vitreous humor of the eye. These vessels can swell and bleed, further clouding vision. Diabetic retinopathy can also lead to glaucoma, edema, and generalized swelling in the eye.

In the case of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the condition is still in the early stages, and the patient may have few to no symptoms. Controlling blood sugar levels to keep them from getting too high can often prevent the condition from growing any worse. Proper management of exercise and diet can also prevent severe diabetic retinopathy.

In patients who cannot control their blood sugar levels, proliferative diabetic retinopathy can develop. In these cases, the condition becomes severe, and areas of ischemia, or oxygen deprivation, develop in the eye. Ischemia is not desirable, because oxygen deprivation can cause permanent cell damage and corresponding loss of vision which cannot be addressed or repaired. Irreversible damage can lead to total blindness.

Symptoms can include black spots in the vision, blurry vision, or fine threads in the vision. Diabetic retinopathy is generally painless, but the patient may experience disorientation due to the associated vision loss. Patients may also feel emotionally strained, as many people experience anxiety and upset if they start to lose their vision. An ophthalmologist can diagnose the condition by looking into the retina to examine it for signs of damage.

If diabetic retinopathy does become proliferative, the patient still has some options. Surgical procedures can be used to remove or seal the extra veins, and to relieve pressure on the eye to reduce the risk of permanent damage. Controlling blood sugar levels also helps to prevent the problem from getting any worse.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Readers Also Love

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?