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Diabetic Retinopathy

If you or a family member has diabetes, there is something you should know about your eyes. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that results from damage to the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. In the beginning stages, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, it can result in blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in adults in the United States.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can happen to anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and according to the National Eye Institute, up to 45 percent of adults diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have some degree of diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop diabetic retinopathy.

What are the stages of diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy has four stages:

1. Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy. At this earliest stage, microaneurysms occur. They are small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood vessels.

2. Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy. As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.

3. Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy. Many more blood vessels are blocked, depriving several areas of the retina with their blood supply. These areas of the retina send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment.

4. Proliferative Retinopathy. At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called proliferative retinopathy. These new blood vessels are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. By themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness can result.


Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes. Symptoms are unusual in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, but as the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:

Risk Factors

The longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can happen to anyone who has diabetes. The risk is highest if you:


During the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy, no treatment is needed, unless you have macular edema. To prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes should control their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol.

If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you'll need surgical treatment promptly. For severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, surgery may be recommended and depending on the specific problems with your retina, options may include:

Although there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, surgery often slows or stops the progression. It is very important to protect your vision and take prevention seriously. If it has been a year since your last eye appointment, schedule your yearly eye exam with Morristown Ophthalmology Associates, P.A. today.