Diabetic retinopathy: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the retina caused by complications of diabetes mellitus.

The condition can lead to blindness if left untreated. Early blindness due to diabetic retinopathy (DR) is usually preventable with routine checks and effective management of the underlying diabetes.

Fast facts on diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is blood vessel damage in the retina that happens as a result of diabetes.

It is the leading cause of blindness in the United States (U.S.).

Symptoms include blurred vision, difficulty seeing colors, floaters, and even total loss of vision.

People with diabetes should have their vision checked at least once annually to rule out DR.

There are retinal surgeries that can relieve symptoms, but controlling diabetes and managing early symptoms are the most effective ways to prevent DR.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy header
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can lead to total blindness without treatment.

DR is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness in the United States (U.S.).

The retina is the membrane that covers the back of the eye. It is highly sensitive to light.

It converts any light that hits the eye into signals that can be interpreted by the brain. This process produces visual images, and it is how sight functions in the human eye.

Diabetic retinopathy damages the blood vessels within the retinal tissue, causing them to leak fluid and distort vision.

There are two types of DR:

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR): This is the milder form of diabetic retinopathy and is usually symptomless.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR): PDR is the most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy and refers to the formation of new, abnormal blood vessels in the retina.

Approximately 5.4 percent of people in the U.S. aged over 40 years have DR.

Worldwide, one-third of the estimated 285 million people with diabetes show signs of DR.

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However, in the advanced stages of the condition, these blood vessels may become completely blocked. The eye then produces new, less stable blood vessels. The new vessels break easily and leak into the vitreous gel of the eye. The bleeding causes blurred and patchy vision by further blocking the retina.

This bleeding, on occasion, forms scars that can separate the retina and the eye, leading to a detached retina. As symptoms develop, a person with DR becomes increasingly likely to experience complete vision loss.

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