Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can affect all organs in the body, including the eye. The most concerning of diabetic eye diseases is diabetic retinopathy, but diabetes can also lead to other problems, including dry eye syndrome, cataract, and glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy is a type of disease in which the small blood vessels in the retina (the back, inner layer of the eye that captures light and sends the signals to the optic nerve) are slowly damaged, causing them to swell and leak fluid. As the disease progresses, new, fragile blood vessels are formed, which can cause further leakage, scarring and other damage. The onset of this condition can be hard for the patient to detect, which in its advanced stages can cause significant vision loss and even blindness.
In order to reduce the risk of developing retinopathy, patients with diabetes have to be especially careful to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is classified into different stages: mild, moderate, severe and proliferative. During the mild stage, the retina's blood vessels will begin to swell; by the second stage (moderate nonproliferative) these vessels will be come completely blocked off, reducing the amount of nourishment to the retina. In the third stage, called severe nonproliferative retinopathy, the condition of the blocked blood vessels is so severe that in addition to lack of nourishment, the blood supply to the retina is reduced. In the most advanced stage of retinopathy, called the proliferative stage, the blood vessels have become so weak that the possibility of blood leakage or hemorrhage, is high. If blood leaks into the eye, it can cause immediate blindness. It is this proliferative stage that needs to be treated aggressively to prevent further vision loss and blindness.
Treating Diabetic Retinopathy
Physicians at Houston Methodist treat proliferative retinopathy with panretinal photocoagulation or scatter treatment, whereby thousands of small laser burns are applied to the retina, causing the blood vessels to shrink. Two or more sessions of treatment are usually required. The treatment is more successful when the condition is caught early. Regular eye exams are important. If too many blood vessels have begun to bleed, however, patients may need a surgical procedure called vitrectomy to remove the blood from the center of the eye.