Diabetic retinopathy is damage to blood vessels in the retina. The retina is tissue in the back of the eye.
This condition can happen with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:
Diabetes causes high levels of sugar in the blood. Over time, excess blood sugar can damage small blood vessels in the body. This includes blood vessels in the retina.
High blood sugar causes swelling and leaking in the blood vessels of the retina. Some vessels may close off. New, weaker blood vessels can form. They also bleed or leak fluid into the eye or create scarring. This can cause problems with eyesight.
Things that raise the risk of diabetic retinopathy are:
Early diabetic retinopathy may not cause any symptoms. Over time, symptoms may be:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health.
An eye doctor will do an eye exam and vision test. Diagnosis is based on an exam of the retina.
Images of the eyes will be taken with:
Early stages of the disease may not need treatment. However, it is important to manage blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. This can slow or stop more damage. The eye doctor will check the condition.
If eye treatment is needed, options are:
To help lower the risk of getting diabetic retinopathy:
American Diabetes Association
American Optometric Association
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Diabetic retinopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/diabetic-retinopathy. Accessed August 6, 2021.
Facts about diabetic retinopathy. National Eye Institute website. Available at: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy. Accessed August 6, 2021.
Lechner J, O'Leary OE, et al. The pathology associated with diabetic retinopathy. Vision Res. 2017;139:7-14.
Management of diabetic retinopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/management-of-diabetic-retinopathy. Accessed August 6, 2021.
What is diabetic retinopathy? Eye Smart—American Academy of Ophthalmology website. Available at: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-diabetic-retinopathy . Accessed August 6, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD Last Updated: 7/6/2021