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Diabetic Eye Care

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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision.

Everyone With Diabetes is at Risk for Retinopathy.

Factors That Can Increase Your Risk Are:

  • Duration of diabetes — the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of diabetic retinopathy
  • Poor control of your blood sugar level
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco use
Chart Showing a Healthy Eye Compared to One With Diabetic Retinopathy

Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy Has Four Stages:

  1. Mild Non-proliferative Retinopathy. At this earliest stage, microaneurysms, balloon-like swelling, in the retina’s tiny blood vessels will occur.
  2. Moderate Non-proliferative Retinopathy. As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.
  3. Severe Non-proliferative Retinopathy. Many more blood vessels are blocked, depriving several areas of the retina with their blood supply. These areas of the retina send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment.
  4. Proliferative Retinopathy. At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called proliferative retinopathy. These new blood vessels are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. By themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness can result.


Retinopathy, particularly at its earliest stages may not produce any visual symptoms. Early detection is the key to preventing vision loss. Therefore, it is very important for all patients with diabetes to undergo a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist, with careful evaluation of the retina at least once a year and more frequently once diabetic retinopathy is detected.


Treatment depends primarily upon the type and severity of the retinopathy. The most important aspect of treatment, however, is prevention. By regularly monitoring blood sugar, and maintaining a healthy program of diet and exercise, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing retinopathy.