Eye Diseases: Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease that usually affects both eyes. In the beginning stages, many people who develop diabetic retinopathy are not aware of the changes that occur in the retina, such as microaneurysms and retinal hemorrhages, which result in bleeding inside the retina.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR) and Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR). NPDR is the early stage of the disease and occurs when damaged blood vessels begin to abnormally leak extra fluid and blood into the eye. Many cases of NPDR may go unnoticed. Signs of NPDR in the eye include:

  • Microaneurysms – small bulges in blood vessels of the retina that ultimately weaken the walls of the retinal blood vessels
  • Retinal Hemorrhages – tiny spots of blood that has leaked into the retina
  • Diabetic Macular Edema – swelling of the macula, which is the center or bullseye of the retina responsible for one’s central vision
  • Macular Ischemia – small blood vessels become irreversibly damaged and permanently close, depriving the retina of its oxygen and nutrient supply

PDR occurs as a result of irreversible damage to normal retinal blood vessels, and the retina responds by growing new, but abnormal and leaky blood vessels that further damage the retina. Signs of PDR include:

  • Vitreous Hemorrhage – blood that leaked from the retina breaks through the retinal surface and leaks into the vitreous, which is the jelly substance within the cavity of the eye
  • Tractional Retinal Detachment – scar tissue in the retina contracts and shrinks, pulling the retina and causing a hole to develop in the retina
  • Neovascular Glaucoma – high pressure in the eye that can cause damage to the optic nerve, resulting from new blood vessels blocking the normal flow of fluid in the eye.

PDR and diabetic macular edema are two of the main causes for vision loss in patients with diabetic retinopathy. Testing for diabetic retinopathy is easily performed by your ophthalmologist during a dilated eye exam. If diabetic retinopathy is discovered, medical and/or surgical treatments are available in order to save one’s vision, if irreversible retinal damage has not occurred.

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