Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the eyes and retina that can affect people with diabetes. On average, half of all people with type 2 diabetes are affected during their lifetime. That's why healthcare professionals must closely monitor diabetic retinopathy to avoid the risk of blindness. Here is our detailed explanation of what diabetic retinopathy is and how it occurs.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is directly related to problems with blood sugar levels. This retina disease affects the blood vessels at the back of the eye. The retina, which is the transparent membrane at the back of the eye, becomes weakened.

With diabetic retinopathy, fluid and blood may leak from some blood vessels, while others may rupture or become blocked. In all cases, nutrients no longer reach their destination, hindering retinal cells' survival.

Those who are most at risk are those who have had diabetes for several years or who have uncontrolled diabetes. People with type 1 and 2 diabetes are also more likely to develop this disease. Diabetic retinopathy can affect the quality of vision and even lead to blindness if it is not treated quickly enough.

What are the different stages of diabetic retinopathy?

Four stages are identified in the evolution of diabetic retinopathy. Visual alteration is not always detected from the 1st to the 3rd stage because it can be imperceptible. Some people with diabetic retinopathy may not notice any vision loss. Only an eye exam can determine whether or not there is vision loss.

Stage 1: Mild non-proliferative retinopathy

This is the 1st stage in which blood vessels in the retina of the eye swell. They may also leak fluid and blood, creating an internal swelling that sometimes blocks parts of the visual field. These kinds of blind spots are mostly unnoticeable to people with the disease.

Stage 2: Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy

This is when certain blood vessels become blocked, and fluid and blood leakage risk increases.

Stage 3: Severe non-proliferative retinopathy

As the disease progresses, additional vessels are blocked, affecting more parts of the retina. If fluid and blood leak near the macula, the central part of the retina, central vision can become blurred.

Stage 4: Proliferative retinopathy

The final stage is the formation of new blood vessels along the retina. These new vessels try to replace the old ones to supply the retina. Unfortunately, they are abnormal. Their walls are thin, and they leak easily, creating new leaks. Vision can become blurred, and loss of visual acuity can be rapid.

You should also be aware that people with advanced diabetic retinopathy risk developing other eye problems. These include glaucoma formation and retinal detachment.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are vision loss, edema and dark marks in the back of the eye. Edema occurs only in the most severe cases. Dark spots in the back of the eye are mainly due to the rupture of blood vessels.

What are the consequences of diabetic retinopathy?

The consequences of diabetic retinopathy on vision and eye appearance are minimal in the early stages. Controlling blood sugar levels can stop eye damage, which can be reversed. Diabetic retinopathy is, therefore, reversible with prompt care. However, diabetic retinopathy can quickly progress and have serious consequences on the quality of vision if it is not treated.

What are the treatments for diabetic retinopathy?

Laser treatment of diabetic retinopathy has proven to be effective in slowing the progression of the disease and preventing blindness. At the same time, controlling blood sugar levels is essential to obtain good results. Finally, the best treatment for people with diabetes is prevention by making sure to book an annual eye exam with an eye specialist.