Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes Related Eye Disorders

Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a consequence of blood vessel changes in the retina caused by diabetes creates weakening, leaking, and even blockage of these vessels in the eye. Furthermore, visual impairments can be the result of new growth of vessels on the retina. These retinal changes often occur even before complications with sight are detected.

There are different stages of development associated with diabetic retinopathy. The initial stage of the disorder is labeled the nonproliferative stage. The successive stage of the disorder is labeled proliferate diabetic retinopathy.

Who gets diabetic retinopathy?

Anyone who has diabetes has a risk of acquiring diabetic retinopathy.  Around 80 percent of all diabetics who have been diagnosed with diabetes for at least fifteen years will be victim to the disorder.  In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working aged individuals.  With excellent blood surgar control, and regular care, complications can often be avoided.

What are the symptoms?
Frighteningly, diabetic retinopathy can develop over a long period of time without any significant indicators. Although there are changes in retinal blood vessels, these may or may not be visible to an untrained eye. Essentially, vision will become blurred or lost completely when diabetic retinopathy is in full effect. The onset of this disorder can be slow, but it may impact a patient’s vision seemingly immediately. During the early nonproliferative stage of diabetic retinopathy, aneurisms occur in the vessels producing swelling and leakage within the retina. This can result in blurry sight quality. These eye hemorrhages often occur multiple times, and can take years to clear, if ever.

During proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the leakage described above has produced scarring and build up in the retina, often causing floaters along with burred vision. In aggravated cases of advanced diabetic retinopathy, a person may only be able to distinguish contrast between dark and light in the affected eye(s). The new vessel growth, due to a lack of oxygen to the retina, is an unhealthy byproduct of the abnormal blood vessel activity, and these vessels can begin to grow on the vitreousScar tissue growth can also be a development in this stage of diabetic retinopathy, which may create tearing and pulling on the retina. In this case, blindness is a very realistic concern.

What is the cause?
The most frequent cause of diabetic retinopathy is lack of blood sugar (glucose) control. Without proper regulation of blood sugar levels, many systems in the body malfunction, including vision. By properly monitoring and regulating sugar (glucose/fructose), blindness can be drastically reduced, slowed, and even prevented.

Other risk factors that increase the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy include: smoking, high blood pressure, alcoholconsumption (major increase in sugar levels), and pregnancy.

How can diabetic retinopathy be detected?
Along with regular medical care to control diabetes, it is highly recommended that diabetics have at least annual eye exams to aid early detection of eye problems related to the disease.

The first step to detect a problem would be a general eye exam, including a visual acuity test (recognition using an eye chart). This will also include a pupil dilation test to check reflexes in the eye to determine vision function. Along with these, an ophthalmologist may also do an ophthalmoscopy that checks the retina under magnification. Unfortunately, these tests are probably insufficient to diagnose any major relation of difficulty to diabetic retinopathy specifically.

A procedure called Fluorescein Angiography allows ophthalmologists to clearly see the formation and activity of blood vessels in the eye, in order to properly detect and diagnose any diabetes related eye disorders.  Newer technologies measure the thickness of the retina by way of laser scanning.

What are the treatment options?
Some cases of diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser surgery. The laser is used to treat the areas of the retina causing the problem, by coagulating (clotting) the unnecessary blood vessel activity.  Sometimes, steroid or medication injections in the eye can be used to treat retinal swelling.

There are other forms of laser treatment for more severe cases that are able to thwart new growth. However, laser treatments are not appropriate or suitable for all patients; consulting an ophthalmologist is the best option to explore the possibilities to take care of each particular case.

In extreme and highly advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy, a vitrectomy is a consideration. This procedure is surgical in nature and essentially replaces the vitreous in the patient’s eye.

It is important to note that these treatments are merely that, treatments; diabetic retinopathy is not curable, thesymptoms may be alleviated, and the risks of advancement are only able to be monitored and prevented.