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Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is retinopathy (damage to the retina) caused by complications of diabetes mellitus, which can eventually lead to blindness. It is an ocular manifestation of systemic disease which affects up to 80% of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more. Despite these intimidating statistics, research indicates that at least 90% of these new cases could be reduced if there was proper and vigilant treatment and monitoring of the eyes[citation

Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs. Even macular edema, which may cause vision loss more rapidly, may not have any warning signs for some time. In general, however, a person with macular edema is likely to have blurred vision, making it hard to do things like read or drive. In some cases, the vision will get better or worse during the day.

As new blood vessels form at the back of the eye as a part of proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), they can bleed (hemorrhage) and blur vision. The first time this happens, it may not be very severe. In most cases, it will leave just a few specks of blood, or spots, floating in a person's visual field, though the spots often go away after a few hours. These spots are often followed within a few days or weeks by a much greater leakage of blood, which blurs vision.

In extreme cases, a person will only be able to tell light from dark in that eye. It may take the blood anywhere from a few days to months or even years to clear from the inside of the eye, and in some cases the blood will not clear. These types of large hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep. On fundoscopic exam, a doctor will see cotton wool spots, flame hemorrhages, and dot-blot hemorrhages


Diabetic retinopathy Classification and external resources
ICD-10 H36. (E10.3
            E11.3 E12.3
            E13.3 E14.3)
ICD-9 250.5
DiseasesDB 29372
MedlinePlus 000494 001212
eMedicine oph/414 oph/415
MeSH D003930


Diabetic retinopathy is the result of microvascular retinal changes. Hyperglycemia-induced pericyte death and thickening of the basement membrane lead to incompetence of the vascular walls. These damages change the formation of the blood-retinal barrier and also make the retinal blood vessels become more permeable. Small blood vessels – such as those in the eye – are especially vulnerable to poor blood sugar (blood glucose) control.

An overaccumulation of glucose and/or fructose damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina. During the initial stage, called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), most people do not notice any change in their vision. Some people develop a condition called macular edema. It occurs when the damaged blood vessels leak fluid and lipids onto the macula, the part of the retina that lets us see detail. The fluid makes the macula swell, which blurs vision.

As the disease progresses, severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy enters an advanced, or proliferative, stage. The lack of oxygen in the retina causes fragile, new, blood vessels to grow along the retina and in the clear, gel-like vitreous humour that fills the inside of the eye. Without timely treatment, these new blood vessels can bleed, cloud vision, and destroy the retina. Fibrovascular proliferation can also cause tractional retinal detachment.

The new blood vessels can also grow into the angle of the anterior chamber of the eye and cause neovascular glaucoma. Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy shows up as cotton wool spots, or microvascular abnormalities or as superficial retinal hemorrhages. Even so, the advanced proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) can remain asymptomatic for a very long time, and so should be monitored closely with regular checkups.

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