Retinopathy is damage to the eye. It affects the thin layer of tissue in the back of the eye called the retina. Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels in the retina caused by Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
There are 2 types of diabetic retinopathy:
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Diabetes causes high levels of glucose in the blood. Over time, this excess glucose can cause damage to small blood vessels throughout the body. The blood vessels in the retina are sensitive to this type of damage.
High glucose can also cause swelling and leaking in the blood vessels of the retina. Some vessels may close off. The damaged blood vessels may then be replaced with weaker blood vessels that also bleed into the eye or create scarring. The bleeding, swelling, and scarring build up and weaken or interfere with vision.
Factors that may increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy include:
Early diabetic retinopathy may not cause any symptoms. Over time, diabetic retinopathy can cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. You will be referred to an eye specialist. An eye exam and vision test will be done.
Images will be taken of your eye. This can be done with:
Early stages of the disease may not need treatment. However, it is important to manage of blood glucose, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure to slow or stop more damage. Your eye doctor will monitor your condition.
If treatment for the eye is needed, options include:
Medicine to reduce the damage to the eye may include:
Surgery may be needed to help slow or stop the progression of retinopathy. Options may include:
To help reduce your chance of getting diabetic retinopathy:
American Diabetes Association
American Optometric Association
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Diabetic retinopathy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116611/Diabetic-retinopathy . Updated November 29, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Facts about diabetic retinopathy. National Eye Institute website. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy. Updated September 2015. Accessed February 12, 2019.
What is diabetic retinopathy? Eye Smart—American Academy of Ophthalmology website. Available at:
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Updated December 4, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Last reviewed February 2019 by Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 2/12/2019