Diabetic retinopathy refers to the eye disease where the blood vessels of the retina are affected. It is one of the complications arise due to diabetes. The back of the retina has light sensitive tissues. The damages or abnormalities in the blood vessels of these tissues lead to Diabetic Retinopathy. This may lead to changes inflammation of the vessels, fluid leak or growth of additional blood vessels covering the surface area of the retina. This condition may lead to poor vision or blindness. Usually both eyes of the patient are affected. The symptoms are not too aggressive or apparent in the early stages. However, when the disease progresses it may lead to permanent vision loss leaving no room for regaining the vision. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the common diabetic eye diseases affecting the vision of millions in the United States.
The cause of diabetic retinopathy
Nothing but the uncontrolled diabetes or elevated level of blood sugar.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy can be classified into four stages, based on the intensity of the symptoms.
Stage 1: It is the earliest stage termed as Mild Non-proliferative retinopathy. In this stage the tiny blood vessels swell like balloons.
Stage 2: Retina is blocked by swollen blood vessels, and this stage is termed as Moderate Non-proliferative retinopathy.
Stage 3: Severe Non-proliferative Retinopathy – All vessels are blocked and lead to disrupted blood supply to the retina. Retina sends signals to the body to produce new blood vessels for enabling blood supply.
Stage 4: Proliferative Retinopathy is an advanced stage. The new blood vessels are formed but they are too fragile and abnormal. The new vessels do not cause any symptoms or lead to vision loss, yet, due to thin walls, they cannot prevent blood leakage from the retina, which causes vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy may cause another eye complication called macular edema. Macula refers to the straight and sharp part of the eyes which aids in vision. When it is filled with leaked fluid from inside the eyes, it causes swelling, blurred vision and partial loss of vision.
Who is at the risk of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetics with uncontrolled diabetes, immaterial it is type 1 or type 2 diabetes pose the risk of this condition. The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases proportionately with how long the patient live with diabetes. If someone has diabetes for many years, the risk of diabetic retinopathy is high!
Pregnant women with diabetes pose a huge risk of diabetic retinopathy during gestation. A dilated eye exam every two months is essential to prevent and reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy.
Prevention is crucial to protect the eye sight and damages to vessels. Having blood sugar levels under control, periodic eye examinations and a check on blood sugar prevents diabetic retinopathy and deterioration of vision.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy may progress without any signs or symptoms. It is very common not to experience any weird signs about this condition in early stages. The symptoms may appear when the condition progresses and includes the following:
- Spots in the vision
- Floaters like dark strings in the vision
- Fluctuation of vision
- Blurred vision and tired eyes
- Difficulty in perceiving the colors
- Loss of vision (the extent of vision loss may vary)
Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy
Based on the stages of the condition, the treatment varies. The initial treatment is focused on controlling the sugar, cholesterol and pressure levels in the blood to prevent the aggravation of the symptoms.
No treatment is recommended in first three stages of the condition except having a good control over the blood sugar. However, there is an exception where a treatment is necessitated when the patient suffer from macular edema.
Fourth stage of retinopathy is treated with laser procedures. Laser surgery called scatter laser treatment is performed to reduce the size of the abnormal and enlarged blood vessels. However, this treatment could not restore the vision loss if any already experienced.
This procedure works effectively when all the blood vessels in the retina bleed. So, periodic examination of eye is essential to get the right treatment at the right time. When the bleeding is severe, another surgical procedure called Vitrectomy is performed, which removes the blood from the eye.
The condition is best treated and prevented with lifestyle management, diabetes diet