What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition where people with diabetes mellitus develop the growth of abnormal blood vessels in and up off of the retina. At the time of diagnosis of this disease, 3% of adult-onset diabetics have vision-threatening eye disease present which requires treatment. Without treatment, these vessels leak clear fluid and swell up the retina, bleed, scar, and cause retinal detachment and loss of vision. In the working age group, diabetes is the most common cause for complete and permanent loss of vision.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

The care of diabetic retinopathy requires regular eye exams yearly or more frequently if diabetic retinopathy is found. If found, treatment is then performed with laser or medications to slow the progression of the disease and, in some cases, allow some visual improvement. If visual symptoms are noted, such as blurry vision, distortion, or blood floating in the eye, this visual loss can be permanent despite treatment. Regular eye exams and early treatment for visual loss is the key to maintaining good vision for life with this disease. These vision-threatening conditions are best diagnosed by dilating the pupils and looking in the back of the eye.

What are the treatments for diabetic retinopathy?

Laser is the most common treatment, either by directly sealing with focal laser the abnormal blood vessels in the retina or by doing panretinal photocoagulation to larger areas of the retina to cause abnormal blood vessels to regress and go away. Sometimes swelling does not respond adequately to laser, and the steroid Kenalog or the vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitor (VEGFI) Avastin may be used with some success. If significant bleeding, scarring, or retinal detachment occur, or if the retinal swelling does not respond to laser and medication, then surgery may be performed to stabilize or sometimes improve vision.

What can I do to reduce my risk for visual loss from diabetic retinopathy?

Regular eye exams are key. Prevention is the only effective way to allow people to maintain good vision for life. Good, consistent, even blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as not smoking, reduce the risk for eye problems. This gives you one more good reason to take good care of yourself.

In Summary

Diabetic retinopathy causes the growth of abnormal vessels that cause loss of vision if not treated early, consistently, and effectively. With timely treatment, this disease can be controlled to allow decent usable vision for life.

For diabetic retinopathy monitoring or treatment, please contact the Eye Surgery Center of Louisiana and schedule an appointment at one of our New Orleans-area location

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