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What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults. It occurs when diabetes damages blood vessels inside the eye. These weak vessels leak fluid into an area of the eye called the retina. Weak new vessels can break and bleed into the retina. Old vessels can leak and cause swelling. These vessels can damage areas of the retina, causing blurry, distorted vision.

Cross section of eye viewed from front and slightly to side. Iris is colored part of eye with clear cornea covering it. Lens is behind iris. Retina is lining of inside back of eye. Retina collects light to create images you see. Vitreous is gel filling inside of eye. Front view of healthy retina showing blood vessels that nourish retina. Front view of retina with diabetic retinopathy. Weak blood vessels, old or new, may bleed into retina and vitreous. Spots may form due to leakage from weak blood vessels.

What Causes Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetes is the cause of this eye disease. Over time, diabetes makes blood vessels weaken all over the body, including in the eyes. Poor blood sugar control can make retinopathy worse. So can smoking, high cholesterol, or poorly controlled high blood pressure. Pregnancy can also cause retinopathy to worsen.

What Are the Symptoms?

You can have diabetic retinopathy without knowing it. Usually, there is no pain and no outward sign. Over time, you may notice gradual blurring or some vision loss. Symptoms may come and go. Early treatment and good control of risk factors may help prevent vision loss or blindness.

What You Can Do

Have your eyes examined regularly by an eye specialist. Your health care provider will tell you when and how often you need these exams. You can also help control your diabetes through exercise, diet, and medicine, as instructed by your health care provider. These same steps may also help control diabetic retinopathy.

© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.