Diabetic Retinopathy is caused by diabetes.  It affects the retina, which is the inner sensitive tissue lining found at the back of the eye.  Many eye doctors relate the retina to that of camera film.  If damage comes to the film, the picture is never seen.  This is what Diabetic Retinopathy does to the retina.  Controlling of your blood sugar level and getting regular eye checks for diabetics is very important in prevention of diabetic retinopathy.

There are 4 main stages to Diabetic Retinopathy.  Below I have outlined them to give you a better understanding of this eye disease.

  1. Mild non-proliferative retinopathy: This is the first stage of diabetic retinopathy and can occur once diabetes has attacked the retina’s circulatory system.  The walls of the retinal capillaries become weak and micro-aneurysms occur.  Micro-aneurysms are tiny balloon-like pouches located in small blood vessels of the eyes.  They can cause a leakage of blood, hemorrhages, swelling, and death of the retina.
  2. Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy: This is the second stage of diabetic retinopathy.  Existing symptoms worsen in this stage and the blood vessels of the retina can become blocked.
  3. Severe non-proliferative retinopathy: This is the third stage of diabetic retinopathy.  At this point, more retinal blood vessels are blocks and the retina lacks oxygen.  The body tries to correct this by growing new blood vessels to nourish the retina.
  4. Proliferative retinopathy: This is the fourth and final stage of diabetic retinopathy.  This stage can cause the retina to detach.  As the new blood vessels are made, they grow not only on the surface of the retina but on vitreous gel that fills your eye.  Because of the blood vessels being new, they are also quite delicate.  Eye checks for diabetics can show that these will bleed and leak, creating masked vision, blind spots, and eventually blindness due to the detachment of the retina.

The stages of this disease are very important to understand but what is even more important is the disease known as macular edema. This is the number one cause of blindness and can be determined with eye checks for diabetics.  The macula is a vital part of our vision and is where our detailed vision happens.  When liquid leaks into the middle of the macula from the delicate blood vessels, the macula swells up and this is what is referred to macular edema.  Macular edema can occur at any level of diabetic retinopathy, but is most popularly found in those who have an advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy.  50% of patients who have been diagnosed with proliferative retinopathy will also be diagnosed with macular edema.

The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can differ greatly, but what is most alarming is that sometimes no symptoms will show up, especially within stage 1 and 2 of the disease.  This is the reason why regular eye checks for diabetics must be pursued. You can have perfect vision and still have proliferative retinopathy and macular edema.  Early detection and quick treatment can help in the prevention of blindness.

All patients who have been diagnosed with Diabetes type 1 of Diabetes type 2 should receive a dilated eye exam a minimum of once a year.  If diabetic retinopathy is found, eye exams should be done more frequently and treatment will proceed to try to stop the process from furthering.

The longer you have been diagnosed with diabetes, the higher your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.  It is stated that 40% to 45% of all Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes will have some sort of diabetic retinopathy.  Controlling your blood sugar level can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.  Keeping control of your cholesterol and blood pressure can also reduce the risk of blindness. Having regular eye checks for diabetics can also help.

Treating diabetic retinopathy will highly depend on the stage with which it has reached.  Many times your eye doctor will perform special tests to monitor your disease and assist in making the right treatment options.  Be prepared to be referred to a specialist to help with the treatment you will need to receive.  Diabetic retinopathy is normally treated with a laser treatment that is referred to as PRP.  PRP is pan-retinal photocoagulation.  Macular edema is normally treated with a focal laser used on the surrounding areas of the macula.  Both have had high success at vision loss reduction, but they will not cure the diseases.  You will always have a high risk of new problems arising.  If the bleeding within your eye is drastic, then you may have to undergo a surgical technique called a Vitrectomy. This removes the blood from the middle of the eye.  You can still require additional treatments if the first ones didn’t work completely or other complications arise, such as the detachment of the retina.

18 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes.  If you are among that number, it is highly suggested that you keep all regular scheduled eye checks for diabetics to help in the prevention of blindness.

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