Diabetic Retinopathy: Early Detection To Prevent Vision Loss

doctor examining a woman's eyeDiabetic retinopathy, the most common eye disease caused by diabetes, is the leading cause of blindness in adults who are 20-64 years old. It is also one of the most common causes of retinal blindness in the world. 25 percent of diabetics have some form of diabetic retinopathy.This common eye disease occurs when blood vessels in the retina change. Changes to the blood vessels can cause irreversible vision loss and possibly the need for eye laser surgery or corrective lenses. The blood vessels can swell, leak fluid or close off. With diabetic retinopathy, abnormal new blood vessels can also grow on the retina’s surface.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, also known as background retinopathy, is the beginning stage of diabetic retinopathy. Damaged blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the eye, and deposits from the blood can leak into the retina. Many people may have nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy that does not affect their vision. If vision is affected by nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, it is due to macular edema or macular ischemia.

Macular edema is swelling or thickening of the macula caused by leaking fluid. It is the most common cause of vision loss in diabetes. With macular ischemia, small blood vessels in the eye close, reducing blood circulation to the macula. Vision will become blurry as the macula does not receive enough blood to function properly.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs when many blood vessels in the retina close, significantly reducing blood flow. To compensate, the retina grows new blood vessels. The new blood vessels are abnormal and do not function properly to supply the retina with necessary blood. The new blood vessels can also cause scar tissue to form, which may cause the retina to wrinkle or detach. This form of retinopathy is more severe as it affects central and peripheral vision. Abnormal blood vessels can sometimes be treated with laser eye surgery.

The best way to prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is early detection of the disease through regular comprehensive eye exams. In the early stages of the disease, changes to vision may not be noticeable. By the time vision loss occurs, there is far more damage to the eye. With regular, comprehensive eye exams, diabetic retinopathy can be detected in the early stages, and vision loss may be preventable.

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