Diabetic Retinopathy

Retinal Damage Due to Diabetes

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in patients 20 to 74 years of age. Persistent elevations in blood sugar results in blood vessel damage to the eye. Damaged blood vessels can then lead to vessel leakage or abnormal blood vessel growth. Two forms of diabetic retinopathy result when the abnormal blood vessels of the diabetic patient begin to leak, or new blood vessels begin to grow.

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels leak and fluid accumulates in the retina. When the leakage is severe (“clinically significant macular edema”), laser surgery can be used to reduce or eliminate the associated retinal swelling. Vision may or may not usually improve with the laser treatment, but if performed early enough, it may stop further vision loss. New intraocular medicines may also limit this kind of eye damage.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy results from further collapse or closure of blood vessels. The retina becomes sick where blood vessels have closed, releasing growth factors that stimulate the growth of new abnormal blood vessels. These new vessels are fragile and can easily bleed causing hemorrhage in the eye and blindness. Laser surgery can drastically reduce the risk of severe vision loss in patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. A procedure termed vitrectomy may be required to restore vision.

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