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Diabetic Retinopathy: Facts, Symptoms and Treatments

One in three Canadians live with diabetes or prediabetes, some living with the disease undiagnosed. Diabetes Awareness Month is recognized every November to educate and increase awareness. By knowing your risk level and forming new, healthy lifestyle habits, you and your family can be part of the action to prevent the development of diabetes.

 

When it comes to your vision, diabetes can have a serious impact. The disease is one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada. Diabetics are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger than average age, are twice as likely to develop glaucoma, and are at risk of losing vision due to diabetic retinopathy.

 

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in people under the age of 65. It is estimated that   approximately 2 million Canadians have some form of diabetic retinopathy.

 

Review these important facts on diabetic retinopathy to learn more about the disease and how it can affect you and your loved ones.

 

1. There are different levels of diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy results in microvascular damage to the retina, particularly the macula (the part of your eye that lets you see colour and that you use for your central vision). This can potentially lead to swelling and abnormal vessel growth, which, depending on the severity, has the potential to cause complications, including blindness. Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy changes the tiny blood vessels in your eye that nourish your retina. This can lead to the arteries in the retina beginning to weaken and possibly leak, forming small, dot-like hemorrhages and tiny aneurysms. These leaking vessels can lead to decreased vision. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to grow. These abnormal blood vessels are associated with a higher risk of hemorrhaging and possible vision loss.

 

2. Decreased circulation of blood vessels can have additional effects

Diabetic retinopathy causes decreased circulation of blood vessels that feed oxygen to the retina, which has the potential to lead to a variety of different negative effects, including: blood vessel blockage (which may also involve retinal damage), abnormal blood vessel growth, and floaters in front of your eye.

 

3. Proliferative retinopathy affects an estimated 3% - 23% of people with diabetes, depending on various factors

Blood leaking into the retina and vitreous causing floaters can lead to visual loss or blindness. In diabetic retinopathy’s later stages, continued abnormal vessel growth and scar tissue may cause retinal detachment and glaucoma.

 

4. Diabetic retinopathy isn’t the only eye problem associated with diabetes

People with diabetes often develop cataracts at a younger age and are at a higher risk for developing glaucoma.
 

5. Diabetics can take preventative steps

The steps to help prevent diabetic retinopathy from setting in are the same as the steps to keep diabetes itself under control. People with diabetes should control their blood-sugar levels. Maintaining a healthy diet, monitoring blood-sugar levels regularly, and never missing a scheduled shot of insulin will all help diabetics be as healthy as possible. Luckily, treatment of diabetic retinopathy with injections or laser surgery and appropriate follow-up care can reduce the risk of blindness by 90%.
 

6. Knowing your risk is possible

Assess your risk for type 2 diabetes using this online survey. Knowing your risk can help you make healthier lifestyle choices that reduce the development of diabetes. Regular eye exams are particularly important for diabetics. Diabetic retinopathy shows no symptoms in its early stages, so a trip to the eye doctor is essential. The earlier a problem is detected, the easier it is to treat.

 

For more information about preventing diabetic retinopathy, read our blog or reach out to one our eye care professionals near you.