Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is the medical term that refers to damage to the retina of an eye that occurs as part of the progression of long-term diabetes.
Light enters the eye through the cornea which allows it to reach the retina. The retina, at the back of the inner eye, is a layer of tissue that changes light and images into nerve signals. These nerve signals are then sent to the brain. Diabetic retinopathy results when blood vessels of the retina are damaged.
Individuals who have type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy. The longer the period of time that an individual has diabetes increases their chances of developing DR.
The severity of the diabetes also increases the chances of developing DR. Additionally, poorly controlled diabetes will further increase the likelihood of developing this condition. The majority of people having diabetes for over 30 years tend to show signs of having diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy can occur in two stages. Nonproliferative DR develops first, while Proliferative DR is the more advanced (and severe) form of the disease.
Symptoms most often do not manifest until damage to the eye is severe. These symptoms include:
• Blurred vision
• Slow vision loss over time
• Shadows or missing areas of vision
• Trouble seeing at night
Diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy is done by dilating the pupils with eye drops and then carefully examining the retina. A retinal photography or fluorescein angiography test may also be used.
Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy is detected when the physician sees blood vessels in the eye that are larger in certain spots (microaneurysms), blood vessels that are blocked, or small amounts of bleeding (retinal hemorrhages) and fluid leaking into the retina.
Proliferative retinopathy is detected when the physician sees new blood vessels starting to grow in the eye that are fragile and can bleed or mall scars developing on the retina and in other parts of the eye (the vitreous).
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans. Many people in the early stage of DR do not have (or notice) any symptoms before major bleeding occurs in the eye.
DR is a very serious condition and everyone with diabetes should have regular eye exams with an accomplished ophthalmologist.