Diabetes is a disease which affects the blood vessels throughout the body, particularly the vessels in the kidneys and eyes. When the blood vessels in the eye are affected this is known as diabetic retinopathy.
The retina is a multi-layered tissue which lies in the back of the eye and detects visual images which are transmited to the brain. Major blood vessels lie on the surface and front portion of the retina, when these blood vessels are damaged due to diabetes they may leak fluid or blood and grow scar tissue. This leakage affects the ability of the retina to detect and transmit images and if left untreated can cause blindness
Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among adults in the United States. The longer one has diabetes, the higher the incidence of developing diabetic retinopathy. Approximately 80% of people who have diabetes for 15 years have some damage to their retinal vessels. With today's treatment only a small percentage of people have serious vision problems.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy - Background Retinopathy and Proliferative Retinopathy.
Backgound Retinopathy is considered the early stage when there are typically no symptoms and reading vision is usually not affected. However, it can advance causing severe vision problems.
Proliferative Retinopathy occurs when the retinopathy becomes advanced and new vessels grow or proliferate in the retina. These new vessels are the body's attempt to overcome and replace the vessels which have been damaged by diabetes. However, these new vessels are not normal and may bleed, causing vision to become hazy and sometimes causing a total loss of vision. These new vessels can also damage the retina by forming scar tissue and pulling the retina away from its proper location requiring immediate medical attention and treatment since it is necessary to prevent severe vision loss.
Regular eye exams are crucial for all persons with diabetes and the only way to diagnose changes in the vessels of your eyes.