What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause  of vision loss for people with diabetes. It involves changes to the blood vessels in the eye's retina, which can swell, leak fluid or bleed. It occurs when too much sugar in the blood leads to blockages in the eye's blood vessels. The eye attempts to grow new blood vessels, but they don't develop properly. It usually affects both eyes. The key is early detection, so here's some information to keep you on top of it.


Symptoms include:

  • Not being able to see colors
  • Loss of central vision, which is used when we drive or read and are focusing straight ahead
  • Blurry vision
  • Holes or black spots in your vision
  • Floaters, or small spots in your vision caused by bleeding


There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Early diabetic retinopathy, also called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, occurs when there's some damage to the blood vessels in the retina, but new blood vessels aren't growing yet. The walls of the blood vessels weaken, and tiny bulges protrude from the vessel walls, sometimes leaking fluid and blood into the retina. Sometimes part of the retina begins to swell.
  • Advanced diabetic retinopathy is when the earlier stage progresses, and it becomes proliferative retinopathy, during which damaged blood vessels close off, causing new abnormal ones to grow in the retina. These can leak into the vitreous, the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye. Eventually, scar tissue may result in a detached retina. Pressure can build up in the eyeball. This can cause nerve damage and lead to glaucoma.

Diagnosis And Treatment

If you suspect you have the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, see your eye doctor. Diagnosis may involve a vision test and dilation of the pupils so that your doctor can better examine your eyes.

Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. When the diagnosis is early stage retinopathy, your doctor may simply advise regular exams and better blood sugar management to slow the progression.

Advanced retinopathy treatment involves surgery. Options include several types of laser surgery, a vitrectomy -- which involves surgically removing the scar tissue in the retina -- or an injection of medicine to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels.

Risk Factors

Risk factors involve the duration of your diabetes — the longer you have it, the greater the risk of retinopathy — as well as how well you control your blood sugar levels. You have a higher risk if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are pregnant, use tobacco or are African-American, Hispanic or Native American.


Because diabetic retinopathy is caused by unstable blood sugar levels, the best way to prevent it is to make sure you manage your diabetes by taking your medicine regularly and living a healthy lifestyle. Other prevention methods include:

  • Regular exercise, which can keep blood sugar levels in check.
  • Close blood sugar monitoring. Remember that stress can spike blood sugar levels, so be sure to monitor it closely. Be sure to turn to Total Diabetes Supply for all your diabetes testing supplies.
  • Get a glycosylated hemoglobin test. This reflects your average blood sugar level for the two- to three-month period before the test. For most people, the goal is to be under 7 percent.
  • Control blood pressure and cholesterol. Eat healthy foods, exercise and monitor your levels.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Monitor vision changes. Contact your eye doctor right away if you experience sudden vision changes.