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Frequently Asked Questions

Diabetic Retinopathy

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

One of the effects of diabetes is that small blood vessels can become damaged. When the vessels that supply blood to the retina at the back of the eye suffer such damage, your vision can be affected. These vessels may weaken and leak into fluid of the eye (vitreous); they can spread abnormally, become enlarged, or close off altogether. At first some blurring may occur, at times just temporarily, or more often for prolonged periods of time. Occasionally there are no effects at all. As the condition progresses, it becomes known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Sight loss can become more severe and eventually total blindness can result, as blood vessels grow out of control or leak so badly that the eye's fluid becomes clouded. Many risk factors have been associated with the development of retinopathy, but the duration of diabetes is the most important single risk factor. The photos below illustrate the effects of proliferative diabetic retinopathy on the vision.

*Photos courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

What is the treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy?

Early detection and treatment can reduce severe vision loss by 60%, which means your primary care physician plays a very important role in the early diagnosis and referral to an ophthalmologist. In most early cases of diabetic retinopathy, the recommended treatment is laser surgery. With lasers, the surgeon will seal broken vessels, keep unwanted vessels from spreading, and strengthen the retina by refastening it to the back of the eye if it has become loosened. In some cases, vision that has suffered damage can be improved.

Click here for a video about Diabetic Retinopathy.

What follow-up is required for Diabetic Retinopathy?

You'll need to continue making regular visits to your eye care specialist, since the underlying cause of your condition, diabetes, cannot be cured.

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