The Down and Dirty on Diabetes Retinopathy
Last updated: December 2021
You may have heard the term diabetes retinopathy (DR). But, that doesn't mean diabetes retinopathy is simple to understand! Here are a few details on DR, risk factors, and what it may mean for YOU!
What is diabetes retinopathy?
Diabetes retinopathy occurs when blood vessels feeding your eye's retina become damaged. The retina is part of the eye that helps you to see well. It is responsible for transmitting light and visual information to the optic nerve for your brain to process. Damage to the blood vessels in and around the retina causes them to either leak or become blocked off. Either way, blood flow and pressure changes in the eye can cause vision changes or blindness.1,2
Stages of diabetes retinopathy
The early stages of diabetes retinopathy are non-proliferative diabetes retinopathy (NPDR). Typically, NPDR will cause some blurry vision. The later stages of DR are called proliferative diabetes retinopathy (PDR). IN PDR, floaters, partial vision loss, and blindness can happen either in the middle of your vision (central vision), on the edges of your vision (peripheral vision), or both.2
Can diabetes retinopathy lead to other complications?
Yes. Diabetes retinopathy can lead to other eye complications. Changes to the blood flow and pressure in your eye can cause diabetes-related macular edema (DME) or neovascular glaucoma (NG). DME causes changes in the eye area important for clear, sharp vision, leading to blurry vision. NG can also cause vision loss and changes, as new blood vessels block parts of the eye from draining out fluids when needed. Finally, DR can cause scarring in the eye, damaging your retina even more.3
Understanding your risk
There are many ways to determine the risk for diabetes retinopathy. In general, the longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk. More than half of people with diabetes develop retinopathy over the years. However, that doesn't mean over half of people become blind. Early treatment for DR can help. Those yearly recurring eye exams are super important!2,3
Another risk for DR is unhealthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Working closely with your medical team to keep these in stable, healthy ranges is an essential part of lowering your risk. Finally, if you are Hispanic or Latinx, your risk of DR is significantly higher than people of different ethnicities.4
How to lower your risk
First, make sure you work with your primary care provider or specialists to keep your blood sugars and blood pressure in a safe range.
Secondly, early-stage DR may not have many symptoms, which means your yearly eye exams are critical to catching problems early on. Make sure you communicate with your eye specialist that you have diabetes because using special equipment to view the blood vessels in the back of the eye and dilating your eyes is an integral part of the exam.
If your eye specialist recommends treatment, don't delay. The best way to decrease your risk of blindness or vision loss is to get DR treated as soon as it's found. Also, let your eye specialist know RIGHT away if you notice changes in your vision.2
Treatment options for diabetes retionpathy
There are several treatment options for diabetes retinopathy. Your eye specialist will direct you on the best options for you based on your particular case. Laser treatments, medication injections, improved blood sugar and blood pressure levels, and removal of some of the fluid in your eye (called a vitrectomy) are some of the current treatment options.2
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