May 21, 2024
Diabetic Retinopathy

Understanding The Leading Cause Of Vision Loss In Working Age Adults: Diabetic Retinopathy

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a medical condition in which damage occurs to the retina due to complications from diabetes mellitus. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Over time, high blood sugar levels from diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy occurs in people who have diabetes, and the risk increases the longer a person has diabetes. It is also more common in people with poorly controlled blood sugar levels over time.

Types of Diabetic Retinopathy

There are four stages of diabetic retinopathy – mild, moderate, severe non-proliferative, and proliferative. In the early stages, tiny bulges will appear on retinal blood vessels. These bulges are called microaneurysms. As the condition progresses, some blood vessels may swell and leak fluid or start to close up. In the more severe stages, new, fragile blood vessels start to grow on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, vision loss can occur rapidly and become very severe. Proliferative retinopathy is the most advanced stage and occurs when existing blood vessels are blocked and new blood vessels grow along the retina and optic disc. Scar tissue can contract and cause retinal detachment, which can cause severe vision loss or blindness.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Early stages of the condition usually do not have any symptoms. However, as it advances symptoms may include blurred vision, dark or empty areas in the field of vision, poor night vision, spots or floating objects in the field of vision, and difficulty seeing colors or details clearly. For some, it may feel like there is a veil or curtain coming down over the sight. Symptoms tend to start gradually as the disease progresses and are usually not noticed until it has reached an advanced stage in many cases. A regular comprehensive dilated eye exam is important for early detection before symptoms arise.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

The main risk factor is having Diabetic Retinopathy  especially for a long duration or poorly controlled blood sugar over time. Additional risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pregnancy in women with pre-existing diabetes, kidney disease, and smoking. Genetic factors may also play a role. People with diabetes are at higher risk if diagnosed before the age of 10 or have had diabetes for over 20 years. Those who experience poor blood sugar control are also at greater risk. Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits and blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels reduces the chance of developing retinopathy and slows its progression.

Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diagnosis involves a comprehensive dilated eye examination by an ophthalmologist. The retina is examined through the dilated pupil with specialized microscopes, lenses, and lights. This helps the ophthalmologist see the entire retina clearly. They look for signs of microaneurysms, hemorrhages, hard exudates, and other changes. Photography may also be taken of the retina for comparison during future visits. Additional tests like optical coherence tomography and fluorescein angiography allow better visualization of retinal layers and blood flow changes. This helps determine the type and severity of retinopathy present.

Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

For mild cases, close monitoring by an ophthalmologist may be sufficient. For more moderate and severe stages, treatment aims to prevent further vision loss by reducing risks. This usually involves laser surgery or injection of medications in or around the eye. Laser surgery seals leaky blood vessels by cauterizing them. This helps reduce bleeding and edema in the retina. anti-VEGF injections block abnormal blood vessel growth. For very advanced cases, surgery such as vitrectomy may be needed to remove the vitreous gel from the eye if bleeding or scar tissue formation has caused retinal detachment. Lifestyle management of blood sugar is also very important to halt the progression of the condition. With early detection and timely treatment, the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can often be reduced significantly.

Prognosis of Diabetic Retinopathy

With good blood sugar and blood pressure control, the progression of diabetic retinopathy can be slowed or stopped in some cases. Early laser treatment usually prevents severe vision loss. Unfortunately, in many areas diabetic retinopathy remains either undetected or diagnosed too late when treatment becomes less effective. Once vision is already significantly lost, it is usually not reversible. Good long-term management is important for a good prognosis. With care, timely treatment, and lifestyle management, diabetic retinopathy patients can expect to retain meaningful vision for many years. However, there is no cure for the retinopathy itself once developed. Ongoing eye care and diabetes control are life-long efforts.

In summary, diabetic retinopathy is a serious disease affecting millions of diabetes patients worldwide. However, with increased awareness, regular eye screenings, and advances in treatments, the risks of vision loss from this condition have been reduced greatly. Maintaining good blood sugar and overall health helps prevent and slow its progression. Early detection is critical for effective treatment before vision impairment sets in.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it