Diabetic Retinopathy: Symptoms, Causes, Complications

Diabetic Retinopathy: Symptoms, Causes, Complications

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes issue that impacts eyes. It’s brought on by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina).

Initially, diabetic retinopathy might cause no symptoms or just mild vision problems. Ultimately, it can cause loss of sight.

The condition can develop in anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The longer you have diabetes and the less regulated your blood sugar level is, the more likely you are to develop this eye issue.


You might not have symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. As the condition progresses, diabetic retinopathy symptoms may include:

  • Spots or dark strings drifting in your vision (floaters)
  • Blurred vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Impaired color vision
  • Dark or empty areas in your vision
  • Vision loss

Diabetic retinopathy typically affects both eyes.

When to see a doctor

Mindful management of your diabetes is the best method to avoid vision loss. If you have diabetes, see your optometrist for an annual eye test with dilation — even if your vision appears fine. Pregnancy may worsen diabetic retinopathy, so if you’re pregnant, your eye doctor may advise additional eye examinations throughout your pregnancy.

Contact your eye doctor right now if your vision modifications all of a sudden or ends up being blurred, spotty or hazy.

See also: Diabetic Retinopathy: Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention


Gradually, too much sugar in your blood can result in the clog of the tiny capillary that nurture the retina, cutting off its blood supply. As a result, the eye tries to grow new blood vessels. However these new members vessels do not establish properly and can leak easily.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Early diabetic retinopathy. In this more common kind — called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) — new members vessels aren’t growing (proliferating).

When you have NPDR, the walls of the blood vessels in your retina weaken. Tiny bulges (microaneurysms) protrude from the vessel walls of the smaller vessels, in some cases leaking fluid and blood into the retina. Bigger retinal vessels can start to dilate and end up being irregular in size, also. NPDR can progress from mild to severe, as more blood vessels end up being obstructed.

Nerve fibers in the retina might begin to swell. In some cases the main part of the retina (macula) starts to swell (macular edema), a condition that requires treatment.

  • Advanced diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can advance to this more severe type, known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this type, harmed capillary block, causing the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels in the retina, and can leak into the clear, jelly-like compound that fills the center of your eye (vitreous).

Eventually, scar tissue stimulated by the growth of new members vessels may cause the retina to separate from the back of your eye. If the new blood vessels hinder the normal flow of fluid from the eye, pressure may build up in the eyeball. This can harm the nerve that carries images from your eye to your brain (optic nerve), leading to glaucoma.

Risk factors

Anybody who has diabetes can establish diabetic retinopathy. Risk of developing the eye condition can increase as a result of:

  • Duration of diabetes — the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of establishing diabetic retinopathy
  • Poor control of your blood sugar level
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco use
  • Being black, Hispanic or Native American

Also read: Keeping Eyes Healthy with Diabetes


Diabetic retinopathy includes the abnormal development of capillary in the retina. Complications can lead to severe vision problems:

  • Vitreous hemorrhage. The new blood vessels may bleed into the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye. If the amount of bleeding is small, you might see just a couple of dark spots (floaters). In more-severe cases, blood can fill the vitreous cavity and completely block your vision.

Vitreous hemorrhage by itself normally does not cause long-term vision loss. The blood often clears from the eye within a few weeks or months. Unless your retina is harmed, your vision might go back to its previous clearness.

  • Retinal detachment. The unusual blood vessels related to diabetic retinopathy stimulate the growth of scar tissue, which can pull the retina far from the back of the eye. This might cause spots floating in your vision, flashes of light or severe vision loss.
  • Glaucoma. New members vessels may grow in the front part of your eye and disrupt the normal flow of fluid from the eye, triggering pressure in the eye to develop (glaucoma). This pressure can damage the nerve that carries images from your eye to your brain (optic nerve).
  • Blindness. Ultimately, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or both can cause complete vision loss.

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