Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes condition that affects the eyes. It's caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).
You might not have symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. As the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:
Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
When blood sugar levels are too high for extended periods of time, it can damage capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that supply blood to the retina. Over time, these blood vessels begin to leak fluids and fats, causing edema (swelling). Eventually, these vessels can close off, called ischemia. These problems are signs of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR).
As diabetic eye problems are left untreated, proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) can develop. Blocked blood vessels from ischemia can lead to the growth of new abnormal blood vessels on the retina (called neovascularization) which can damage the retina by causing wrinkling or retinal detachment. Neovascularization can even lead to glaucoma, damage to the optic nerve that carries images from your eye to your brain.
Maintaining strict control of blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as having regular diabetic retinopathy screenings by your eye doctor are keys to preventing diabetic retinopathy and vision loss. Controlling blood sugar and also help to prevent the development of cataracts, as diabetes is a risk factor for cataracts.
An ophthalmologist can often diagnose and treat serious retinopathy before you are aware of any vision problems. The ophthalmologist dilates your pupil and looks inside of the eye with special equipment and lenses.
If your ophthalmologist finds diabetic retinopathy, special tests may be ordered such as colored photographs of the retina or a fluorescein angiography to find out if you need treatment. In this test a dye is injected into your arm and photos of your eye are taken to detect where fluid is leaking.
The best treatment is to prevent the development of retinopathy as much as possible. Strict control of your blood sugar will significantly reduce the long-term risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. If high blood pressure and kidney problems are present, they need to be treated.