Diabetic Retinopathy

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Diabetic Retinopathy Overview

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that results from a loss of blood flow and oxygen to the retina. The retina is located in the back of the eye. It collects light and turns it into a signal that is interpreted by the brain as vision.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the retina does not receive enough blood because the vessels in the retina are damaged by high blood sugar.

This condition can lead to a range of problems ranging from a minor leakage of blood and plasma in the retina to total blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in American adults, and it usually affects both eyes. 

There are two kinds of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy – This condition can cause mild bleeding, swelling and the formation of fatty deposits in the retina.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy – This condition occurs when diabetes is not being controlled and extensive blood vessel damage occurs. In this phase of the disease, the retina grows new vessels as a way to gain nourishment. These vessels are abnormal and can lead to more leak age, retinal detachment, glaucoma, and in some cases, blindness. 

Risk factors

Diabetic retinopathy occurs in about 40 percent of all Type 1 diabetics and 20 percent of all Type 2 diabetics. The length of time a person has diabetes is a risk factor for the condition. Other risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy, especially when the mother is diabetic
  • High blood pressure in diabetics 
  • High cholesterol in diabetics 
  • Diabetic kidney disease

Keeping your blood sugar at the right level can greatly reduce the chance of developing diabetic retinopathy.    

Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosis

Diabetic retinopathy needs to be detected as early as possible. People with this condition may experience few, if any, symptoms. The retina is delicate and once injured cannot always completely heal. 

Anyone with diabetes should have an eye exam at least once a year. In order to diagnose diabetic retinopathy, your ophthalmologist will give you a complete eye exam. Your doctor also will discuss your medical history, including the medicines you are taking, so bring a complete lis t of your medicines as well as any recent test results to your appointment.

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment

Once a diagnosis has been made and the degree of the retinopathy is determined, the ophthalmologist will create a personalized treatment plan. This plan can range from careful observation to laser treatments.

Newer treatments include the injection of steroids directly into the eye but the relief is usually temporary, and steroids can cause glaucoma and cataracts in some patients.

Other treatments for diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Anti-angiogenic drugs
  • Laser treatments 
  • Vitrectomy (removal of the vitreous)

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