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Diabetic Retinopathy – Disease and Treatment

For patients with diabetes, the body is unable to properly control the level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. High levels of blood sugar can disrupt the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to various parts of the body. Over time, elevated blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels throughout the body, but the vessels most affected are in the kidneys, eyes and limbs.

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Early Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in the back of the eye, the area known as the retina, are damaged and begin to leak blood. This leakage causes the retina to swell and form deposits. This is an early form of diabetic retinopathy as is known as background or non-proliferative retinopathy. Statistics show that most diabetic patients do not develop retinopathy until they have had diabetes for at least ten years.

Advanced Retinopathy

As diabetes worsens and the blood vessels in the eye become more damaged, the cells in the eye do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. This causes the retina to initiate the growth of new blood vessels in order to offset the loss of the required nutrients. These new blood vessels typically grow on the surface of the retina and are very dangerous. These vessels can break and bleed across the retina and other parts of the eye. This stage of disease is called advanced retinopathy or proliferative retinopathy. The proliferative disease is very serious and can cause blindness.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

During the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, patients do not normally notice any symptoms. As the leakage of blood becomes more severe or as new blood vessels grow over the retina, vision can be significantly decreased. Fortunately, the advancement of diabetic retinopathy can typically be slowed dramatically by proper management of the diabetes. That is, with proper diet control, a good exercise program and a limited number of occurrences of high blood sugar levels, the retinal disease progression can be slowed or halted. Floaters are often associated with the disease in the early stages, but this symptom is also common with macular degeneration.

To diagnose diabetic retinopathy the eye doctor uses a testing technique called fluorescein angiography. A dye is injected into the blood stream and pictures are taken of the back of the eye as the dye flows through the vessels in the eye. If any leakage is present, then the extent of the leakage can be determined by the amount of dye that has escaped the blood vessels.


The best treatment for diabetic retinopathy is preventative. With proper diet and control of the diabetes, the diabetic retinopathy progression can be greatly impeded. For advanced cases, a laser surgery called panretinal photocoagulation is used for treatment. During this surgery, a laser is used to seal leaking blood vessels and destroy the newly developing blood vessels. This procedure also allows more oxygen to reach the retinal areas.

Early detection of the advanced cases is very important, as 95 percent of those with substantial retinopathy can avoid significant vision loss if treated in time.  Eye Health Partners’ retina team uses highly sensitive diagnostic equipment like Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and other diagnostic tests like digital fundus photography and fluoroscein angiography to aid early detection of diabetic eye disease. 

To learn more about this disease and to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced doctors, please visit out contact page.

In addition to treating diabetic retinopathy, the specialists at Eye Health Partners are dedicated to providing the latest technologies, including Eylea and Lucentis to treat patients those suffering from macular degeneration.


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