Diabetes is an unfortunately common health condition involving high levels of blood sugar over an extended period of time, for one of two reasons: Either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates the level of sugar in the blood or the pancreas does produce enough insulin, but the cells of the body fail to respond properly to the insulin. Among the most serious ramification of improper maintenance of this condition is an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
Diabetic Retinopathy is marked by changes in blood vessels located in the retina, caused by extended periods of high blood pressure, which, in some cases, may cause the vessels to swell or leak fluid. In other instances these blood vessels may close off entirely, neovascularization may take place, in which new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina, causing it to wrinkle, doing serious damage your vision. When blood sugar levels get too high for too long, it is possible that damage will be done to the blood vessels that supply blood to the retina.
Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
The earliest form of Diabetic Retinopathy is called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). Although most people with NPDR do not experience any ill affects to their vision, a number of serious complications are possible in which NPDR could do significant harm.
Macular edema is a major complication realted to NPDR, in which a swelling or thickening of the macula, caused by fluid leaking from the retina's blood vessels, hinders the macula's ability to function properly. Since the macula is the small part of your retina responsible for your central and fine-detail vision, if it is prevented from working properly, it can very seriously affect your vision. A blurring of your vision, called macular ischemia, may also occur. This is caused by the closure of small blood vessels in your macula, causing your macula to be starved for oxygen.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
Another, more serious form of diabetic retinopathy is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), which mainly occurs when many of the blood vessels in the retina become closed off, which starves the retina of a great amount of blood and oxygen. This is when neovascularization occurs. Starved for oxygen, and in an attempt to supply itself the blood it is lacking, the retina begins growing new blood vessels, which are often also accompanied by scar tissue which may later shrink, possibly causing the retina to wrinkle and be pulled from its normal position. This condition is called traction retinal detachment and can seriously distort your vision, and cause more serious vision loss if the macula or large areas of the retina become detached.
A condition called neovascular glaucoma may also result from severe neovascularization. When neovascularization occurs in the colored part of the eye, called the iris, normal flow of fluids out of the eye is blocked, causing fluid pressure in the eye to rise. This can cause severe damage to the optic nerve, the bunch of nerves at the back of the eye that feeds visual information to the brain, and severely damage your sight.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
If your eye sight periodically changes from blurry to clear, or you are experiencing dark spots or blank areas in your vision, these may signs of diabetic retinopathy. You may also experience what seem to be spots, dots or cobweb-like strings floating in your vision, called floaters. Because of the potential irreversible damage that can be done to the eye, and the difficulty of treating diabetic retinopathy, the best treatment for diabetic retinopathy is to prevent it altogether. Keeping your blood sugar under control is a very important part of this, but it is just as important to have frequent comprehensive eye exams so that if signs of retinopathy emerge, treatment can be begun immediately.
Whether you have type 1, type 2, or even just gestational diabetes, you are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer you have had the disease, the greater the risk. It is essential to keep your blood sugar levels under control to prevent vision loss, and this may require a trip back to your primary care physician.
Treating diabetic retinopathy can include vitrectomy, replacing the inner gel-like substance that supports the eyeball structure, and laser surgery.
Special thanks to the EyeGlass Guide, for informational material that aided in the creation of this website. Visit the EyeGlass Guide today!
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