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Complications of Diabetic Retinopathy

written by: Harry Sylvester • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 5/20/2011

Diabetes causes some complications that can lead to loss of vision. This article includes information about complications of diabetic retinopathy that might result in some vision problems like vitreous hemorrhage, glaucoma, and blindness.

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    What is it?

    Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease caused by diabetes. Having diabetes for years can boost the chance of developing diabetic retinopathy. The blood vessels of the retina might alter, break down, and cause diabetic retinopathy. This eye disease can lead to vision loss or blindness to the sufferers. For anyone who suffers from this eye disease, blood vessels can enlarge and bleeding might occur in the eye. In addition, new blood vessels can appear on the surface of the retina. People with this disease should aim to control their blood sugar level as tightly as possible to reduce the risks of complications.

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    Causes

    If you have diabetes for a longer period of time, your chances of developing diabetic retinopathy might increase. With that said, high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. This condition will lead to weaker eyes’ lenses. The lenses might bloat and result in loss of vision.

    Damaged blood vessels from diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss in two types:

    Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). It’s the early state of the diabetic retinopathy in which the sufferers might show mild symptoms. If you have NPDR, the walls of the blood vessels in your retina deteriorate and cause tiny bulges known as microanuerysms. The microanuerysms can stick out from their walls and leak fluid into the retina. The fluid make the macula swell, resulting in blurred vision. The macula is the part of the retina that enables us to recognize different colors.

    Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). It’s the more severe form of this eye disease in which abnormal blood vessels might develop and leak blood into the center of the eye, resulting in blurred vision. In addition, development of glaucoma can occur due to extremely high pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is caused by nerve damage of the optic nerve. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy will lead to vision loss and blindness if you don’t treat this disease properly.

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    Symptoms

    Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

    • Floating specks in vision that is caused by serious eye bleeding

    • Missing areas of vision that is caused by development of new blood vessels on the surface of the retina

    • Gradual vision loss and blurred vision (macular edema) that is caused by the swollen macula

    • Difficulty seeing at night

    • Difficulty reading

    People with diabetic retinopathy must be aware of the fact that this eye disease shows no symptoms before the disease becomes severe. It’s recommended they have a dilated eye exam once a year to anticipate this disease.

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    Complications

    Complications of diabetic retinopathy can result in some serious vision problems including:

    Vitreous hemorrhage. This eye bleeding can occur because abnormal blood vessels leak blood into the center of the eye. The symptom is you will see some dark specks or spots in your eye if the small bleeding happens. As it grows more and more severe, the eye bleeding might flow into the vitreous cavity and hamper vision. Vitreous hemorrhage is repetitive. Your eye might seem normal some time but your eye might experience bleeding within the next few months.

    Retinal detachment. The abnormal blood vessels can accelerate the development of scar tissue that will detach the retina from the back of the eye. Retinal detachment can result in floating specks in your vision or vision loss.

    Glaucoma. If abnormal blood vessels obstruct the normal flow of fluid in the eye, pressure can accumulate in the eye and cause glaucoma. More importantly, this damage is detrimental because it may lead to optic nerve damage and loss of vision.

    Blindness. Either diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma can result in blindness.

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    Treatments

    You can reduce the risk of complications by quitting smoking and keeping blood sugar (glucose), blood pressure, and cholesterol levels under control. No treatment is required for people with non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy. An ophthalmologist, however, must supervise the eye health of those people.

    Treatments only prevent this disease from getting worse but they cannot recover the eye. Main treatments like laser eye surgery and surgical procedure are needed to treat abnormal blood vessels appearing in the eye, to treat macular edema, and to repair retinal detachment.

    Proliferative retinopathy is treated with laser eye surgery to help shrink the abnormal blood vessels. The process is known as scatter laser treatment. By having this treatment done, you might have chances of preventing you from losing your vision. Scatter treatment can keep the rest of your vision.

    Laser eye surgery is utilized to treat macular edema. In this case, focal laser treatment will slow the leakage of fluid in the eye and decrease the amount of fluid in the retina. The treatment enables you to have better vision. The risk of vision loss might be decreased by fifty percent when you apply this treatment.

    In addition to those laser eye surgeries, surgical treatment can help restore your vision due to vitreous hemorrhage and retinal detachment. The procedure is called vitrectomy.

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    References

    National Eye Institute: Facts about Diabetic Retinopathy - http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy.asp

    Medline Plus: Diabetic Retinopathy - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001212.htm

    The University of Michigan Kellogg Center: Diabetic Retinopathy - http://www.kellogg.umich.edu/patientcare/conditions/diabetic.retinopathy.html

    Mayo Clinic.com: Diabetic Retinopathy: Complications - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetic-retinopathy/ds00447/dsection=complications

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.