Diabetic retinopathy is a health condition that is a linked further effect of all the different types of diabetes including both of the type 1 diabetes and types 2 diabetes as well as the gestational form of diabetes.
The issue comes about when the blood pressure and the blood sugar located in the eyes have leakage and the blood is released into the eyes. This can cause a variety of problems such as blurring of vision, sudden blackouts, and even the complete loss of the eyesight.
What makes diabetic retinopathy complicated is that its symptoms are not very visible and do not appear immediately. Some people tend to have the effects of this condition without even realizing they are having it.
Many of the people even get the link to the problems that occur as signs of diabetic retinopathy with common health issues. For example, the blurring is vision is often thought to be a sign of aging rather than of a diabetes-related issue.
This is because diabetes-related problems are usually thought to appear mostly in people belonging to the older age groups. Statistically, around 45% of 29 million diabetic patients in the United States alone have diabetic retinopathy.
Moreover, as many as half of the given figure are not even aware of having the condition because of either not having symptoms or confusing them with some other health issue.
The risk of diabetic retinopathy is surprisingly not well-known among the people, many of who even have diabetes. It is a lifelong risk for any diabetes patients and should be known as it can even cause permanent loss of vision.
What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?
To understand how diabetic retinopathy develops in a person, it is important to know about the linked disease that is diabetes. This particular health condition is now one of the most commonly seen around the world.
In this disease, the body is not able to use or make sugar or glucose as it does normally. This causes a number of complications in the body including the constant ups and downs in the blood sugar levels of the patient.
Periods of low and high blood sugar can make it harder for the body to maintain the processes within and normally functioning as well as affect the overall life of the patient severely.
In diabetic retinopathy, the high content of sugar in the blood begins to damage the blood vessels specifically the ones which are located in the retina of the eyes. It can cause the blood vessels to swell up, contract, or even leak at times.
As a result, the eyes can even start growing new blood vessels as a defense and healing mechanism from diabetic retinopathy. All these effects eventually combine and lead to changes in the vision and eyesight of the patient.
Technically, there are four stages in diabetic retinopathy, the first three of which are included in the non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy or NPDR. The stages of the health condition are:
Mild non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
In this first stage of NPDR, the blood vessels in the eye begin to swell and leak a little bit at times. The stage is also called background diabetic retinopathy since it usually does not show any symptoms in people.
A person may or may not experience changes in the vision or blurry vision for a few minutes. It typically varies from person to person
Moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
The patient is said to have a moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy or the stage two of diabetic retinopathy when the blood vessels inside the eye start to swell and are not able to transport appropriate amount of blood into the eyes.
When the swelling reaches the macula, which is a part of the retina which enables the person to see details, the vision starts getting affected. This condition is also called macular edema.
Macular edema is by far the most common reason people with diabetes lose their eyesight in the United States.
Severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
In the third stage of diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels inside the eye start to constrict and close which does not let enough blood reach the macula in the middle of the retina. This condition is cited as macular ischemia and causes blurry vision.
At this stage, the body also starts following the defense mechanism of growing new blood vessels in the retina which then sets the stage for the fourth stage of diabetic retinopathy.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy
If the early stages of diabetic retinopathy are not cured, they develop into the most severe and last stage which is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. This only happens when the body starts growing new blood vessels in the eyes.
Because the newly grown blood vessels are not that strong, they too start leaking which makes the patient see bloaters. When they bleed a lot, it results in blocking the vision entirely.
The growth of new blood vessels in the eyes also causes the growth of scar tissues that leads to many other issues such as problems with the macula and detached retina.
What Are The Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy?
In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, the majority of the patients see little to no signs at all. The health condition tends to develop gradually and shows some symptoms at times such as seeing floaters occasionally.
Since such signs appear suddenly as good away in a very short time, they are not taken seriously. Other indications of the health condition can be the blurry vision which can make concentrating, writing or reading difficulties.
Early treatment of diabetic retinopathy is the best way to ensure the patient would not get serious effects such as irreversible changes in the vision and complete loss of vision upon developing proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
As the disease develops, the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may start to appear. Some of the signs that can indicate diabetic retinopathy include:
- Blurry vision
- Floaters (strings or spots)
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Hazy vision
- Dark Spots
- Empty areas of vision
- Trouble seeing colors
- Temporary changes in the vision
- Loss of vision
In some of the cases, the mentioned symptoms can even occur suddenly at once. For example, there have been many cases where the patients directly lost their vision without reporting any other signs of diabetic retinopathy.
The most recommended way to avoid reaching this stage of diabetic retinopathy is to see an eye doctor every year. Pregnant women with diabetes should especially see eye specialists more often as they are more likely to have a sudden loss of vision.
What Can Cause Diabetic Retinopathy?
The biggest reason so far for the development of diabetic retinopathy is poor control and management of blood-glucose level while having diabetes. People who do not have diabetes can experience different types of retinopathies.
The causes of diabetic retinopathy are the following:
- Poor blood sugar control
- High blood pressure
- Older age
- High cholesterol
- Diabetes (both type 1 and 2) while being pregnant
- American Indian, Hispanic, Alaska native, or black descent
The longer a person has had diabetes, the higher there is a risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This is why the condition is commonly linked to older age groups rather than all of the diabetes patients. People who have type 2 diabetes at a young age are also at an increased risk of retinopathy.