Diabetic Retinopathy Can Steal Your Vision

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition caused by diabetes that can lead to impaired vision or blindness.   People who have diabetes for a long time are at higher risk of developing the condition, which is the leading cause of blindness for adults in the United States.

Diabetes occurs when excess sugar or glucose builds up in the blood.   Normally, the body uses insulin to provide access for sugar to pass from the bloodstream into cells, where it is used as a source of energy.  In type 1 diabetes, the body is not able to produce the insulin it needs. In type 2 diabetes, the insulin produced does not work correctly, or the cells in the body become resistant to the work of insulin.  In both cases, sugar builds up in the blood.

This excess sugar can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the retina.  The retina is the light-sensitive inner lining at the back of the eye.  Light enter the eye through the pupil and lands on the retina. Special cells in the retina convert these images into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

If the retina is not healthy, vision will become impaired.   Many people do not have any symptoms of vision loss early in the condition.  Possible later symptoms include:

  • Seeing unusual spots or floaters
  • Blurry vision
  • Having a dark spot, shadow,  or hole in the center of your vision
  • Difficulty seeing in the dark or at night

There are two basic types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) – This is the earliest stage of the disease. Symptoms are typically non-existent or very mild.  At this point, the walls of the blood vessels have become weakened and start to show small bulges known as microaneurysms.
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) – This more severe stage of the disease results as circulation in the blood vessels is reduced and the retina starts to starve for oxygen.  The body tries to compensate by growing new blood vessels to supply oxygen to starving tissue.  These new vessels may leak blood into the fluid that fills the eye, causing it to get cloudy and blurring vision.

Everyone who has diabetes is at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.  Between 40 and 45 percent of all people who have diabetes have some stage of this condition. If you have diabetes, be sure to keep your sugar levels under control to limit damage to your retinas and schedule an eye exam to get your eyes dilated and checked every year.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.


National Eye Institute. Facts About Diabetic Retinopathy. Web. April 23, 2012.


Medline Plus. Diabetes and eye disease. Web. April 23, 2012.


American Optometric Association. Diabetic Retinopathy. Web. April 23, 2012.


Related Links:

Diabetic Eye Complications: Glaucoma
Diabetic Eye Disease: 5 Things You Should Know
Signs of Diabetic Eye Disease

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