Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a group of diseases that diabetics may face as a complication of the diseases. In a general sense, diabetic retinopathy is characterized by changes and damage to the blood vessels in the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes. In some cases, the blood vessels of the retina may become blocked or swell and leak fluid. In other cases, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina’s surface. Those in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy may not notice any changes to their vision, though an exam may detect it. Over time, however, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause moderate to severe vision loss.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy and should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam annually. If diabetic retinopathy has been diagnosed, treatment options can help prevent the disease’s progression. Also, controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol can help mitigate the progression of the disease.

As may be advised, and depending on the type and severity of its condition, other treatment options may be available, including laser surgery. In some cases, laser surgery and appropriate post-surgical care can reduce the risk of blindness up to 90 percent. But since lost vision often cannot be totally restored with laser surgery, early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best prevention.

If you have diabetes, you should be alert to the potential of developing diabetic retinopathy. It estimated that 40 to 45 percent of patients diagnosed with diabetes also have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.

Untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss in one of two ways. First, proliferative retinopathy is a situation in which the tiny blood vessels of the retina leak blood in the center of the eye and blur vision. Second, macular edema is a condition in which fluid leaks into the center of the macula, causing it to swell, resulting in blurred vision.

Stages of diabetic retinopathy

There are four stages of the disease:

  1. Mild nonproliferative retinopathy is the earliest stage. At this stage microaneurysms (small balloon-like swellings) occur in the retina’s blood vessels.
  2. Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy. At this stage some of the retina’s blood vessels become blocked.
  3. Severe nonproliferative retinopathy. At this stage many of the retina’s blood vessels become blocked, deprive the retina of its necessary blood supply, and cause the development and growth of new blood vessels.
  4. Proliferative retinopathy is an advanced stage of the disease. As new retinal blood vessels develop and grow abnormally, their fragile walls may leak blood and cause severe vision loss.


Proliferative retinopathy can be treated with laser surgery. The procedure, called scatter laser treatment, aims at shrinking the abnormal blood vessels that developed beneath the retina. In this procedure, 1,000 to 2,000 pulses or beams of laser energy at focused at selected spots on the retina away from the macula. This procedure is often performed in more than one session. Scatter laser treatment, while preserving remaining sight, may slightly reduce night and color vision.

Macular edema is treated with a different laser treatment, called focal laser treatment. This treatment aims several hundred pulses or beams of laser energy in the areas of retinal leakage around the macula, slowing the rate of leakage and reducing the amount of fluid in the retina.

Another treatment, called a vitrectomy, may be necessary to remove blood that has accumulated in the center of the eye (vitreous), creating blurred or clouded vision.

Should you need surgery to treat diabetic retinopathy, our staff of highly trained and experienced retinal specialists will explain these procedures in detail. You will know what to expect and the outcome that will result.