Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes in which the retina, a part of the eye, becomes progressively damaged.
During the initial stages, diabetic retinopathy does not cause any symptoms. However, if it is not treated it can cause partial, followed by total, loss of vision.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps break down glucose (sugar) so that it can be used by the body’s cells as fuel.
The body’s problem with making or using insulin causes the level of glucose in the blood to rise. This can cause a wide range of complications, including diabetic retinopathy.
Type 1 diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce any insulin. The condition usually begins in people who are under 40 years of age and often develops during the teenage years. People with type 1 diabetes will need injections of insulin for the rest of their life.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is where the body does not produce enough insulin to function properly or where the body’s cells do not react to insulin. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, but usually affects people who are 45 years of age or over. Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their symptoms using a combination of diet and exercise. More serious cases require insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for 95% of all cases.
How common is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes. It is the leading cause of blindness in adults under the age of 65.
It is estimated that 25% of people with type 1 diabetes will have some degree of diabetic retinopathy five years after their symptoms first develop.
In the case of type 2 diabetes, 25% of people who do not require insulin will have some degree of diabetic retinopathy five years after the onset of symptoms. The figure is higher for people who require insulin (an estimated 40%).
If diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, the outlook for the condition is good. Research has found that treatment can prevent severe vision loss in 90% of cases of diabetic retinopathy.
Early stage diabetic retinopathy can usually be treated by bringing your diabetes under better control. More advanced diabetic retinopathy will require laser surgery to prevent further damage to the eyes.