Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

Avoiding Blindness

Hawaiian Natives have a significantly higher rate of diabetic retinopathy – the leading cause of blindness among Americans under the age of 65 – than other ethnic groups*. And, the longer you’ve had diabetes, the higher your risk of developing this condition. Both types of diabetics are at risk. The good news is that most cases can be prevented with early detection and treatment. That’s why it’s especially important to have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year.

What causes diabetic retinopathy? When blood sugar is poorly controlled, blood vessels in the retina may swell and leak fluid or blood and leave deposits there, causing swelling. In some people, however, it’s caused by the growth of abnormal new blood vessels on the retina’s surface.

Early Stages

Background Diabetic Retinopathy (BDR) is an early stage, more like a warning sign that serious damage to the eye may be starting. BDR can occur at any time after the onset of diabetes and often has no visual symptoms, but is usually caught in routine eye exams. Generally, patients at this stage are closely monitored.
Should the condition advance to pre-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, in which part of the retina swells, the leaking blood vessels will be sealed by performing a laser photocoagulation on the retina.

Advanced Stages

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR) happens when fragile, abnormal blood vessels grow along the surface of the retina and across the vitreous (the clear jelly inside the eye). Should they break or even leak, severe vision loss or blindness can occur. Alternatively, fluid may leak into the center of the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see sharp images straight ahead. Patients with PDR should receive scatter laser photocoagulation (also known as pan-retinal laser photocoagulation) to seal the vessels as soon as possible after they are diagnosed.

Left too long without treatment, the vessels can bleed into the vitreous. This may also cause the retina to detach, potentially causing blindness. In either case, you will need a vitrectomy. This is an operation to remove the hemorrhage, as well as the broken blood vessels.

It’s important to remember that not all diabetics will lose their vision. Your risks can be reduced or eliminated by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure, eating right, getting regular exercise and having your eyes examined at least once a year. If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, don’t put off treatment. Early detection and early treatment will save your sight.

For more information, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with San Francisco / Napa LASIK surgeon Dr. Bansal, please call 1-800-527-3745.