Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that results from the damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, diabetic retinopathy can result in blindness.
Over time, diabetes affects the circulatory system of the retina. The earliest phase of the disease is known as background diabetic retinopathy. In this phase, the arteries in the retina become weakened and leak, forming small, dot-like hemorrhages.
These leaking vessels often lead to swelling or edema in the retina and decreased vision. The next stage is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, circulation problems cause areas of the retina to become oxygen-deprived or ischemic. New, fragile vessels develop as the circulatory system attempts to maintain adequate oxygen levels within the retina. This is called neovascularization. Unfortunately, these delicate vessels hemorrhage easily. Blood may leak into the retina and vitreous, causing spots or floaters, along with decreased vision. In the later phases of the disease, continued abnormal vessel growth and scar tissue may cause serious problems such as retinal detachment and glaucoma.
Researchers have found that diabetic patients who are able to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels have fewer eye problems than those with poor control. Diet and exercise play important roles in the overall health of those with diabetes.
Diabetes can also greatly reduce the possibilities of eye complications by scheduling routine examinations with your eye doctor. Many problems can be treated with much greater success when caught early.