A complication of diabetes where retinal blood vessels break down, leak or become blocked, impairing vision over time. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working adults, ages 20-74 years, in the U.S. 90 percent of blindness caused by diabetes is preventable https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm
All types of diabetes (type 1, type 2 and gestational during pregnancy) can affect blood vessels throughout the body. In the eye, it can damage the blood vessels within the retina, the thin layer of tissue in the back of the eye that allows us to see. Damaged blood vessels can leak blood and/or fluid into the retina. This fluid will harm the retina and can increase the risk of permanent vision loss if left untreated. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, damage often occurs before vision is affected. Visual symptoms may develop as diabetic retinopathy progresses. Visual symptoms include: blur, floaters (black spots or cobwebs), or sudden vision loss. In the advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, new, abnormal blood vessels can form and these leak blood and fluid, which can potentially lead to other sight-threatening complications such as retinal detachment and glaucoma.
Additionally, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause the natural lens inside the eye to swell and change shape, which can also cause changes to vision. People who have diabetes have an increased risk of developing cataracts, a clouding of the natural lens inside the eye, earlier in their life.
An eye care provider, optometrist or ophthalmologist, can detect diabetic retinopathy through a comprehensive dilated eye examination, which is recommended at least once every year. If retinopathy is found during the evaluation, a person may be monitored with more frequent dilated eye examinations or treatment may be recommended depending on the severity of the condition. There are various forms of treatment for diabetic retinopathy, including injections, laser, and surgery. The eye care provider will help determine which treatment option is recommended for each person. Two risks for the development of diabetic retinopathy are the length of time a person has diabetes and how well blood sugar levels are controlled over time. Diabetes can also damage other blood vessels throughout the body and put a person at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular health issues. To prevent diabetic retinopathy and other issues related to diabetes, it is best to control blood sugar levels by eating healthy, engaging in regular exercise, and working with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
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Here are some additional resources for this condition:
National Eye Institute- https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy
American Academy of Ophthalmology-https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-diabetic-retinopathy
American Optometric Association- https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/diabetic-retinopathy
Prevent Blindness- https://www.preventblindness.org/diabetic-retinopathy