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Diabetic Eye Disease

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About Diabetic Eye Disease and Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among people living with diabetes. It is part of a group of diseases described as diabetic eye disease. This grouping also includes diabetic macular edema (DME), cataracts, and glaucoma. However, in most cases, when someone says “diabetic eye disease” they are referring to diabetic retinopathy or DME.

It is common among people living with diabetes, with nearly half having some form of diabetic eye disease. Of that half, only half are aware of the developing condition.

Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema

Click to learn more about cataracts1 and glaucoma2.

Diabetic Retinopathy

About 1 in 20 people with diabetes have proliferative retinopathy. Proliferative retinopathy’s main hallmark is significant vision loss and legal blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy has two main impacts: macular swelling, and changes to the blood vessel network that supplies the retina. Macular swelling is referred to as diabetic macular edema (explained below).

There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy:

  1. Mild nonproliferative retinopathy – In this stage, microaneurysms in the retinal blood cells leak fluid into the retina. This can cause blurry/hazy vision.

  2. Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy – In this stage, blood vessels begin to swell and change. This impairs their ability to properly transport blood to the retina.

  3. Severe nonproliferative retinopathy – In this stage, most blood vessels in the retina are damaged or blocked. This causes a shortage in the blood supply to the retina, causing the retina to release growth factors and promote the development of new blood vessels.

  4. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) – New blood vessels are forming, growing inside the retina and vitreous gel. However, these blood vessels are weak and quickly die, leaving behind scar tissue. This scar tissue can actually contribute to retinal detachment, resulting in permanent vision loss.

Treatments are available to help manage diabetic retinopathy. Learn more about how we treat diabetic retinopathy3.

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

DME is the build up of edema (fluid) in the macula. It can cause the macula to swell and impair vision. Among people with diabetic retinopathy, DME is the most common cause of vision loss.

With Diabetic Eye Disease, Early Detection & Treatment Are Key to Success

Vision lost to diabetic retinopathy is generally permanent, meaning that the name of the game is detection and management of the disease. By preventing its progression, visual acuity and quality of life can best be preserved.

Lifestyle factors are also important in managing retinopathy. Keeping your blood sugar levels in check via diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors can reduce the development of retinopathy and DME.