If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you are at risk for developing a serious eye disease. Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the blood vessels in the eye's retina. High blood glucose levels inflict damage to these small vessels, weakening their walls and enabling them to leak blood. This leads to retinal swelling, macular edema and abnormal growth of new blood vessels, resulting in permanent vision loss. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults worldwide. Find out what you need to know about this condition and how you can reduce your risk.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy typically occurs in both eyes. There are two types of diabetic retinopathy, which are known as non-proliferative retinopathy and proliferative retinopathy. Non-proliferative retinopathy occurs in the three following stages:
- Mild, during which the small vessels in the retina develop microaneurysms, which are pockets of balloon-like swelling
- Moderate, during which some of the vessels that aid in nourishing the retina become blocked
- Severe, during which more blood vessels become blocked, depriving the retina of blood supply and prompting the growth of new blood vessels
As new blood vessels take form, scar tissue also grows. This scar tissue can distort and pull on the retina, resulting in retinal detachment.
Proliferative retinopathy is the most advanced stage of this disease, during which the new blood vessels that have grown are weak, and blood leakage from these vessels occurs. Once this vitreous hemorrhage occurs, severe vision loss or blindness can result.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
According to the National Eye Institute, 40 to 45 percent of diabetic Americans have diabetic retinopathy. However, half of these individuals are unaware that they have it. That is because during the mild and moderate stages of the disease, patients may not experience any noticeable symptoms or discomfort.
Macular edema is a complication of diabetic retinopathy in which fluid that leaks from the blood vessels in the retina builds up, causing the macula to swell. Your retina is located inside the back of your eyeball, and the macula is a small oval-shaped area in the center of the retina. The macula enables your central vision. When macular edema occurs, your central vision is compromised and things will appear blurry. Once diabetic retinopathy has progressed through the severe non-proliferative stage and bleeding starts to occur during the proliferative stage, you will experience patches of vision loss. These patches will appear as gray or black spots or lines floating in your field of vision. If this occurs, you must seek immediate care from your ophthalmologist to try to avert complete and permanent vision loss.
If you have not experienced any symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, there are some things that you can do to prevent the disease or slow its advancement from the early stages.
Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy
The longer you have uncontrolled diabetes, your risk for developing diabetic retinopathy increases. Pregnancy also increases your risk. Other risk factors include the following:
- High cholesterol
- Being Hispanic or African-American
In order to keep tabs on your overall eye health, be sure to schedule comprehensive dilated eye examinations with your eye doctor at least annually. Diagnosing diabetic retinopathy in its non-proliferative stages enables early treatment before vision loss occurs. In addition to comprehensive dilated eye examinations, follow these tips to help prevent diabetic retinopathy:
- Monitor and control your blood glucose levels.
- Check your cholesterol levels.
- Don't smoke.
- Monitor your blood pressure, and keep it stable.
- Eat a nutritionally balanced and healthy diet.
- Engage in exercise or physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day.
Vision loss caused by diabetic retinopathy may be irreversible, so follow the examination schedule that your ophthalmologist recommends. Once you have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, he or she will recommend more frequent comprehensive dilated eye examinations as the condition advances. Early detection, monitoring of the disease's progression and treatment can significantly reduce your risk of blindness. To learn more, visit http://www.josephdevenutojrmd.com.