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What is Diabetic Retinopathy

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness and occurs as a complication to diabetes. The impact of diabetes can cause damage to the retina by compromising the tiny blood vessels and the light-sensitive tissue located in the back of the eye, often resulting in low vision and with advance diabetic retinopathy, blindness. For good vision, it is imperative to have a healthy retina.

4 Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

During the first stage of diabetic retinopathy (known as Mild Nonproliferative) there may be no noticeable change in vision. It is during this stage that small balloon-like swelling of the retina’s tiny blood vessels occur.

The second stage of diabetic retinopathy (Moderate Nonproliferative), is the progression of blockage found in some of blood vessels responsible for nourishing and providing blood supply to the retina.

As this blockage advances to more blood vessels, the third stage of diabetic retinopathy, (Severe Non-proliferative), occurs. During this stage, the number of blocked blood vessels has increased, depriving the retina of the nourishing blood supply. The retina sends signals to the body indicating the need to grow new blood vessels for providing nourishment.

During the advance stage of diabetic retinopathy, (Proliferative Retinopathy), signals are sent by the retina to grow new nourishing blood vessels, causing the body to produce new abnormal blood vessels intended to supply nourishment to the retina. As these newly formed blood vessels develop, their growth is abnormal and fragile. Of themselves, these abnormal blood vessels do not cause the loss of vision, however the weak condition of the blood vessel walls allows for leakage to the area of abnormal growth (along the retina and the surface of the clear vitreous gel that fills the eye). This leakage of the blood supply may cause severe vision loss and possibly result in blindness. Vision loss occurs in two forms; during the fourth stage, as previously discussed, the blood supply from the weak, newly formed abnormal blood vessels leaks into the center of the eye. The second cause of diabetic retinopathy vision loss is when fluid leaks into the center of the macula (the part of the eye responsible for sharp, straight ahead vision). This leakage of fluid causes the macula to swell, blurring the vision and is known as macular edema. Macular edema can occur during any stage of diabetic retinopathy, yet it is more common in the advance stages.