When blood vessels in the retina are damaged, they may leak fluid or blood, and grow fragile, brush-like branches and scar tissue. This can blur or distort the images that the retina sends to the brain, and may lead to blindness if left untreated.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the United States. People with untreated diabetes are said to be 25 times more at risk for blindness than the general population.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to know that with today’s improved methods of diagnosis and treatment, only a small percentage of people who develop retinopathy have serious vision problems.
Types of Diabetic Retinopathy
- Background retinopathy is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, tiny blood vessels within the retina become damaged and leak blood or fluid. Leaking fluid causes the retina to swell or form exudates.
- Sometimes the leaking fluid collects in the macula, the part of the retina that lets us see fine details like letters or numbers. This problem is called macula edema. Reading and close work may become more difficult because of this condition.
- Proliferative retinopathy describes the changes that occur when new, abnormal blood vessels begin growing on the surface of the retina.
The abnormal growth is called neovascularization. These new blood vessels have weaker walls and may break and bleed into the vitreous cavity. The vitreous is the clear, Jelly-like substance that fills the center of the eye. Leaking blood can cloud the vitreous and partially block the light passing through the pupil towards the retina, causing blurred and distorted images.
The neovascularization can also lead to problems such as severe glaucoma and retinal detachments, which may lead to blindness.
Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the most serious form of diabetic retinal disease. It affects up to 20 percent of diabetics and can cause severe loss of sight including blindness.