Diabetic retinopathy – An eye disorder caused by diabetes

Diabetes is metabolic disorder where the pancreas glands fails to produce enough insulin or the insulin produced is not sufficient to carry out breakage of glucose and thus energy cannot be produced. Diabetes has no cure found yet and the disease progresses rapidly when it is not being controlled with medicines, healthy lifestyle changes and so on.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the common complications of uncontrolled diabetes. It generally develops due to chronically high levels of glucose in the blood. The condition characterizes damaged blood vessels in the retina. This area consists of light-sensitive tissues located at the back of the eyes. One person out of four suffers from diabetic retinopathy. As per the data released by the National Eye Institute states that diabetic retinopathy is the common cause of blindness amongst diabetic people.

What are the types of retinopathy?

It is important to know the types of retinopathy so that treatment options can be decided to gain the best out of them. The types of the disease are:

Hypertensive retinopathy

This condition occurs when high blood pressure elevates to abnormally high level affecting the blood vessels in the retina.

Arteriosclerotic retinopathy

Atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries causes retinopathy.

Retinopathy of prematurity

This is generally found in premature, underweight babies.

Your treatment options are entirely depending on the type of retinopathy you are dealing with.

What are the symptoms?

Generally, the disease progresses through four stages showing different symptoms in every stage. In the early stage of the disease, the symptoms are not so visible and that is why many people do not get diagnosed in the first stage. In retinopathy, damaged blood vessels bleed and causes you to see floaters or spots in front of your eyes. Floaters disappear automatically but if they stay for longer than expected, you need to see a doctor as this could be because diabetic retinopathy.

Stages of retinopathy are explained below:

Mild nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)

Microaneurysms which are balloon like swelling form in the blood vessels in the retina. This leads to leakage of fluid into the eyes retina.

Moderate NPDR

With the progression of the disease, blood vessels that provide nutrition to the retina swells and they could not transport nutrition and oxygen to the retina. This causes changes in the appearance of the retina. These changes can be located during an eye check up. You must treat the condition as it starts showing symptoms as untreated moderate retinopathy might lead to complications and cause vision loss.

Severe NPDR

In this stage, the blood supply to the retina is stopped causing more damage to the blood vessels.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)

This is an advanced stage of retinopathy where the retina releases growth factors to form new blood vessels. These blood vessels on the inner side of the retina and also in the vitreous gel that is present in the centre of the eye. These are fragile and chances of them breaking or getting leaked causing scar tissues are higher. This leads to detachment of retina.

What are the risk factors?

As mentioned earlier, type 2 diabetes is the major risk factor. But apart from this metabolic issue, there are other risk factors which cannot be neglected. They are as follows:

  • Abnormally high blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Belonging to African-American, Native American or Hispanic


Diagnosis of retinopathy

Your doctor will perform a comprehensive eye check up to understand the type of retinopathy you are dealing with and also to know the degree of severity of the eye issue.

Your doctor will use different types of instruments to find out:

Damaged blood vessels

Scar tissue formation in the retina

Bloody or fatty deposition in the retina

Retinal detachment

Optic nerve condition

Bleeding in the vitreous fluid

Treatment options for diabetic retinopathy

Focal laser surgery

The aim of this surgery is to stop or demolish leakage of blood or fluid into the eye. This is performed by burning and sealing the leaking blood vessels. The success rate of this surgery depends on the progression of your disease. In many cases, the vision cannot be restored but this surgery can surely prevent the condition from becoming worse.

Scatter laser surgery

As the name goes by, this surgery includes usage of laser to burn the damaged blood vessels. This can be performed more than once and you might experience blurry vision for a couple days post-surgery.


In this type of surgery, tiny incision is made in the eye to discard blood from the vitreous fluid and scar tissues if present. This prevents retinal detachment and thus prevents vision loss as well.