What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetics can prevent diabetic retinopathy by keeping their blood sugar levels stable and by having periodic ocular fundus examinations. What causes this disorder? We're going to give you all the relevant information.
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Last update: 05 December, 2020

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that can occur in anyone who is diabetic, regardless of whether they have type 1 or type 2. Although the rate of its occurrence has been falling, to give you a statistic from Europe, it currently affects almost 15% of Spaniards.

Specifically, experts estimate that nearly 98% of type 1 diabetes mellitus patients with more than 20 years living with the illness are affected. In the case of type 2, the percentage is nearly 60%, 20 years post-diagnosis.

Diabetic retinopathy arises due to the damage diabetes causes to the blood vessels that supply the retina with blood flow. It tends to affect people who have lived with diabetes for a long time. 

In fact, the chance of suffering from this disorder increases if blood sugar levels haven’t been adequately controlled. Over the long term, this pathology can lead to a total loss of vision.

That’s why, because of its importance, in this article, we’ll explain what the disease consists of as well as its causes and symptoms, to help its occurrence continue to decline.

What does diabetic retinopathy consist of?

A doctor with a diabetic patient.
Diabetic retinopathy is a disorder that is characterized by the deterioration of visual health. It occurs when blood sugar levels are too high and unmanaged.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood sugar levels remain high and out of control for prolonged periods. Blood vessels in the retina suffer certain changes in response to the damage caused. The process is divided into various stages:

  • Mild non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This is the earliest stage of the illness. Small areas of inflammation appear in the blood vessels. These are microaneurysms.
  • Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy. If the pathology isn’t stopped, some vessels become obstructed and the level of severity increases.
  • Severe non-proliferative. At this stage, many vessels have become obstructed. For this reason, the retina doesn’t receive adequate blood flow. The body tries to form new vessels in an attempt to maintain blood flow to the retina.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy. New blood vessels are created, but they’re fragile and form within the retina. Since they’re weak, blood can leak out and cause vision loss.

Furthermore, inflammation of the macula can also be produced. The macula is a part of the eye that’s involved in the visual process. This inflammation is due to macular edema, which can occur in any of the aforementioned stages of the disorder, causing blindness.

You might be interested in: Natural Remedies for Type 2 Diabetes

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Normally, the person with the disorder begins to notice the symptoms when the illness is too far advanced. For this reason, in order to prevent it, all diabetics should carry out periodic tests to check the retina.

It’s a simple and painless procedure called ocular fundusDetecting the pathology in time helps to avoid its progression, and in that way, stop the loss of vision. As retinopathy progresses, the symptoms can include the following:

  • Gradual loss of vision
  • Poor vision at night
  • Trouble distinguishing between colors – additionally, vision can become blurry and even vary from moment to moment.
  • In some instances spots appear within the field of vision; they can be dark areas, which is one of the symptoms of retinal detachment.

Retinal detachment consists of a separation from the posterior wall of the eye, to which the retina is attached under normal circumstances. It’s a serious and urgent medical complication.

How can we prevent this disorder?

An eye exam.
A timely diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy is the determining factor for its successful treatment. Additionally, controlling blood glucose levels is fundamental.

It’s possible to prevent a large number of diabetic retinopathy cases thanks to a series of simple measures. Firstly, it’s essential that diabetics have regular eye tests. 

There are a number of studies that show that early detection of pathologies such as diabetic retinopathy can help improve both medical costs and a patient’s quality of life.

In the same way, controlling blood sugar levels and blood pressure is vital. A patient should adopt healthy eating habits, as well as frequent moderate exercise.

Ideally, the patient should follow the treatment instructions given by the doctor. To make sure everything is correct, you can measure your blood sugar levels frequently. Furthermore, you must avoid toxic habits like tobacco and alcohol.

In conclusion:

When blood sugar levels remain high for long periods of time, it can cause obstructions in the blood vessels that supply the retina. Consequently, the eye tries to develop new blood vessels. However, these are delicate and can bleed easily.

This causes vision problems that worsen progressively. This is why diabetics must pay particular attention to their visual health. You should turn to your doctor frequently to check on the status of your health. 

It might interest you...
Juvenile Diabetes Characteristics
Step To Health
Read it in Step To Health
Juvenile Diabetes Characteristics

Juvenile diabetes is an increasingly common disease in children under five. Learn more about this condition and how it's treated in this article.

  • Duh EJ, Sun JK, Stitt AW. Diabetic retinopathy: current understanding, mechanisms, and treatment strategies. JCI Insight. 2017;2(14):e93751. Published 2017 Jul 20. doi:10.1172/jci.insight.93751
  • Jimenez-Baez, M. V., Marquez-Gonzalez, H., Barcenas-Contreras, R., Morales Montoya, C., & Espinosa-Garcia, L. F. (2015). Early diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy in primary care. Colombia Médica : CM46(1), 14–18. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437282
  • Martínez Rubio, M., Moya Moya, M., Bellot Bernabé, A., & Belmonte Martínez, J. (2013). Diabetic retinopathy screening and teleophthalmology. Archivos de La Sociedad Española de Oftalmología (English Edition)87(12), 392–395. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oftale.2012.04.016
  • Drakatos, P., Kosky, C., & Williams, A. J. (2012). Diabetic retinopathy [5]. New England Journal of Medicine367(2), 184. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc1205011
  • Fong, D. S., Aiello, L., Gardner, T. W., King, G. L., Blankenship, G., Cavallerano, J. D., … Klein, R. (2004, January). Retinopathy in Diabetes. Diabetes Care.
  • Stewart, M. W. (2010). Pathophysiology of diabetic retinopathy. In Diabetic Retinopathy: Evidence-Based Management (pp. 1–30). Springer New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-85900-2-1