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Diabetic Retinopathy

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which blood glucose levels are elevated. This is because the body does not produce enough insulin, or has cells that do not respond properly to the insulin the pancreas produces.

What are the types of diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes. Diabetes Type 1, or juvenile diabetes, is caused when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. In diabetes Type 2, the cells in the body do not respond properly to insulin. Diabetes type 2 is more common after the age of 40.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high levels of blood glucose that damage the cells in the retinal blood vessels. The damaged vessels leak fluid and blood into the retinal tissue. Fluid accumulation in the central part of the retina can cause macular edema and decrease the central vision. In advanced retinopathy, the blood vessels become blocked and fail to deliver oxygen to the retina. This may promote growth of pathological blood vessels inside the eye.

What are two main risk factors for the development of diabetic retinopathy?

The most important risk factors are the duration of the diabetes and how well the diabetes is controlled.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Initially, diabetic retinopathy produces no symptoms. Patients with diabetic maculopathy (central retinopathy) may relate mild reduction in vision to other causes such as needing new glasses. The appearance of new floaters in the visual field may indicate advanced retinopathy with hemorrhage from new blood vessels inside the eye.

How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?

Diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed and graded by an ophthalmologist following dilation of the pupil and a clinical examination of the retina. Additional imaging of the retina adds important information for treatment and follow-up evaluations.

How is early diabetic retinopathy treated?

Control of the blood glucose levels will significantly reduce the risk of progression of diabetic retinopathy. If high blood pressure and cholesterol levels are present, they need to be treated and controlled.

Are there any other treatments?

Diabetic retinopathy is treated with laser and drugs which block the development of abnormal blood vessels and treat the macular edema. Treatment is based on the stage of the diabetic retinopathy and is performed to improve the vision and prevent visual loss. In some cases, surgical treatment is necessary.

In summary:

Blood glucose control is of great importance, and treatment by a diabetes specialist is highly recommended. In case diabetic retinopathy is present, it is important to have a periodic checkup by a retina specialist. Timely and accurate treatment of the retina will significantly reduce the possibility of visual loss.

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