Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye problem that can be caused by either type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus. Retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina. The retina is light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. This damage can lead to problems with your vision, including blindness. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.

How does it occur?

High blood sugar levels damage small blood vessels in the retina. The weakened blood vessels may break and leak fluid and blood. Also, new abnormal blood vessels may grow. These new blood vessels can bleed, cause cloudy vision, and affect the retina.

The longer you have had diabetes, the more likely you are to have retinopathy.

What are the symptoms?

There may be no symptoms in the early stages. As the problem gets worse, you may have:

  • blurred vision
  • floaters, which can look like black spots, little threads, or cobwebs
  • bleeding in the eye
  • temporary or permanent loss of vision.
How is it diagnosed?

The health care provider will look at your eyes with a special light. He or she will be able to see inside your eyes and look for signs of retinopathy. Your provider may refer you to an eye specialist (an ophthalmologist).

How is it treated?

Early treatment before the retina has been badly damaged is the most successful in reducing vision loss from this disease.

Your eye surgeon may use a laser to seal leaking blood vessels. The surgeon may also use a laser to destroy abnormal blood vessels.

If you have had bleeding into the clear gel (vitreous) that fills the inside of the eye, the eye surgeon may remove the gel. The gel will be replaced with a clear fluid. This procedure is called a vitrectomy.

How long will the effects last?

As long as you have diabetes, there is a chance you will have retinopathy. However, careful control of your blood sugar levels will help delay and possibly prevent vision loss.

You may need to be treated more than once for retinopathy. Have your eyes checked regularly to make sure you get treatment when you need it.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow your provider's advice and these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have an eye exam at least once a year. Ask your provider how often your eyes should be checked.
  • Tell your provider right away if you have any change in your vision.

Retinopathy can cause the retina to become detached. This means the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye. If this happens, you need to see your doctor for urgent treatment to reduce the chance of permanent vision loss. Call your doctor right away if you start seeing dark spots, floaters, or light flashes or your vision is blocked, blurred, or distorted.

What can be done to help prevent diabetic retinopathy?

To help prevent diabetic retinopathy, follow these guidelines:

  • Control your blood sugar.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Stop smoking. (Smoking may speed up the development of retinopathy.)
  • Follow your diet and health care plan for your diabetes so you have fewer complications.

Developed by iMcKesson Clinical Reference Products
Published by iMcKesson Clinical Reference Products.
Copyright 1995-2000 iMcKesson LLC. All rights reserved.

Adapted from content provided by iMcKesson, LLC
Review Date: 6/9/01