Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetes is a disease that affects the blood vessels throughout the body, particularly vessels in the kidney and eye. When blood vessels in the eye are affected, this is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among adults in the United States. If you are diabetic, your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases over time. Current national guidelines recommend at least annual dilated eye exams if you have diabetes.

How common is diabetic retinopathy?

Approximately 80 percent of people who have diabetes for 15 years or longer have some damage to their retinal vessels.

How does diabetic retinopathy affect vision?

When the blood vessels located within the retina are damaged due to diabetes, they may leak fluid or blood or form scar tissue, reducing the ability of the retina to detect and transmit images.

Is there more than one type of diabetic retinopathy?

There are two main types of diabetic ocular problems: nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). NPDR involves retinal hemorrhages and swelling for which injections or laser treatment may be indicated. PDR is more severe, with scar tissue formation necessitating the need for injections, laser treatment, and/or surgery.

What can I do?

If you are a diabetic, you can reduce your chance of developing diabetic retinopathy by keeping your blood sugar levels under control and by having your eyes examined at least once a year.

How the Eye Works

The eye’s surface, or the cornea, is convex. A well-shaped cornea allows light rays that hit it to bend through the pupil, pass through the lens, and focus precisely on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina converts the light rays into electrical impulses that are sent through the optic nerve to the brain, where a clear image is produced.