What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially serious eye disease caused by
diabetes. It affects the retina - the light-sensitive tissue at the
back of the eye that transmits visual messages to the brain. Damage to
this delicate tissue may result in visual impairment or blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy begins with a slight deterioration in the small
blood vessels of the retina. Portions of the vessel walls balloon
outward and fluid starts to leak from the vessels into the surrounding
Subsequent developments (vascular proliferation, bleeding,
retinal scarring, detachment, etc.) are all either directly or
indirectly due to the retinal ischemia that results from vascular
Generally, these initial changes in the retina cause no visual
symptoms. However, they can be detected by an eye specialist who is
trained to recognize subtle signs of retinal disease.
In many people with diabetic retinopathy, the disease remains mild
and never causes visual problems. But in some individuals, continued
leakage from the retinal blood vessels leads to MACULAR EDEMA.
This is a build-up of fluid in the macula - the part of the retina
responsible for the sharp, clear vision used in reading and driving.
When critical areas of the macula become swollen with excess fluid,
vision may be so badly blurred that these activities become difficult
Some people with diabetes develop an even more sight-threatening
condition called PROLIFERATIVE RETINOPATHY.
It may occur in people who have macular edema, but also can develop
in those who don't. In proliferative retinopathy, abnormal new blood
vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
These fragile new vessels can easily rupture and bleed into the
middle of the eye, blocking vision. Scar tissue also may form near the
retina, ultimately detaching it from the back of the eye.
Severe visual loss, even permanent blindness, may result. But this
happens in only a small minority of people with diabetes.
Why is it important to know how diabetes affects the eyes?
How many diabetics are
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
What research is being done on diabetic retinopathy?
Who can refer you to an eye care specialist?
What help is available to the person who has already lost vision from
Last Revised: August 17, 2010