Diabetic retinopathy is a serious eye condition that, if left untreated, can lead to blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina – the delicate, light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye. It is one of the most serious and common complications associated with diabetes mellitus and is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can also result in other serious eye problems – including retinal detachment and macular edema.
The importance of an early diabetic retinopathy diagnosis
The good news is that diabetic retinopathy can be treated, and vision loss can be prevented if the disease is diagnosed early enough. Just as diabetes can be managed with the proper care and treatments, so too can diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy stages
Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes, and symptoms may not appear until the later stages of the disease. The four stages are:
- Stage 1: Mild nonproliferative retinopathy: In this stage, the retinal blood vessels begin to swell.
- Stage 2: Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy: In this stage, some of these blood vessels become blocked.
- Stage 3: Severe nonproliferative retinopathy: In this stage, many more blood vessels are blocked, disrupting blood flow to several areas of the retina.
- Stage 4: Proliferative retinopathy: Proliferative retinopathy is the most serious form of the disease. In this stage, and as a result of normal blood vessels being blocked, new blood vessels grow along the retina and in the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance that fills the middle of the eye). These new blood vessels are fragile and prone to leaking if they break, which can lead to vision loss and blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy risk factors
People with either type of diabetes – type 1 or type 2 – are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The chance of developing the condition increases the longer your diabetes goes untreated. If you have diabetes, it is important to manage your blood sugar levels and visit your Henry Ford ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam once a year.
Other factors that may increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include:
- High blood pressure
- Drinking alcohol
Pregnant women with diabetes are also at higher risk of developing the condition and are strongly encouraged to have eye examinations each trimester to protect their vision.
At Henry Ford, patients come first.
The Henry Ford Department of Ophthalmology is committed to providing our patients with compassionate, personalized care. We feature the most advanced treatments in eye care and are dedicated to vision research – always staying at the forefront of innovation. A leader in Michigan, as well as one of the largest ophthalmology practices in the United States, we treat more than 55,000 patients per year at 12 locations throughout southeast Michigan. In addition, our team works closely with Henry Ford Medical Group physicians in other departments, providing multidisciplinary, coordinated care for those patients who need it.