Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication that affects eyes caused by the damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). It can cause vision loss and blindness. It develops in type 1 and type 2 diabetes and can also affect those who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The longer you have diabetes and less controlled your blood sugar is, the higher your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

When there is too much sugar in your blood it can lead to the blockage of the tiny blood vessels in your eye, cutting off its blood supply. This causes new blood vessels to grow but they aren’t developed properly and can leak easily.

Are there any conditions that can be caused by diabetic retinopathy?

Yes, there are a couple of conditions that can be caused by diabetic retinopathy.

  • Diabetic macular edema: 1 in 15 diabetics will develop DME. DME occurs when the blood vessels in the retina leak fluid into the macula causing blurry vision.
  • Neovascular glaucoma: the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels can interfere with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye and pressure can build in the eyeball, this heightened pressure in the eye can cause damage to the optic nerve that carries images from the eye to the brain resulting in glaucoma.
  • Retinal detachment: the leaking of the new blood vessels causes scars to form in the back of the eye. The scars pull your retina away from the back of the eye.

Can diabetic retinopathy be treated?

There are several treatments for diabetic retinopathy.

  • Injections: anti-VEGF drugs or corticosteroids can slow down or reverse diabetic retinopathy.
  • Laser treatment: to reduce swelling in your retina, lasers can be used to make blood vessels shrink and stop leaking.
  • Eye surgery: if retina is bleeding a lot or you have a lot of scars, your eye doctor may recommend a vitrectomy.

Having high cholesterol or high blood pressure along with diabetes can increase your odds of getting diabetic retinopathy. You can start to see floaters in your vision, blurred vision, fluctuating vision, dark or empty areas in your vision, or vision loss.

Early diabetic retinopathy or non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), is when the new blood vessels aren’t growing properly. They are weakened as more vessels become blocked.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy or proliferation diabetic retinopathy, the damaged blood vessels close off causing the growth of new abnormal blood vessels in the retina. They are fragile and leak into the clear jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye (vitreous). The scar tissue from the growth of new blood vessels can cause the retina to detach from the back of the eye or cause a build up of pressure in the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy is preventable with proper management of your diabetes. Having uncontrolled high blood sugar over a long period of time can increase your risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. So in order to prevent it, you need to stay physically active (150 minutes per week at least), eat healthy, and always take your medication when you are supposed to.


Mayo Clinic
American Academy of Ophthalmology


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