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Home » Eye Conditions & Health » Eye Diseases » Diabetes and Eyesight – An Overview » Diabetic Retinopathy – Causes & Symptoms

Diabetic Retinopathy – Causes & Symptoms

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina. It is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans. People with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are at risk for this condition.

  • Severe diabetes over the course of a longer period of time increases the chance of getting retinopathy.
  • Blindness is the number one complication of people with diabetes.
  • Retinopathy is also more likely to occur earlier and be more severe if your diabetes has been poorly controlled.
  • Almost everyone who has had diabetes for more than 30 years will show signs of diabetic retinopathy.

There are two types or stages of retinopathy:

Non-Proliferative or Background Retinopathy develops first. In the retina, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels. Blood vessels in the eye become larger in certain spots (called microaneurysms). Blood vessels may also become blocked. There may be small amounts of bleeding (retinal hemorrhages), and fluid may leak into the retina. This can lead to noticeable problems with your eyesight.

Proliferative Retinopathy is the later more advanced and severe form of the disease. New blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These new blood vessels are fragile and can break and bleed into the vitreous, the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the interior of the eye. Small scars develop, both on the retina and in other parts of the eye. The end result is vision loss, as well as other problems.

Fortunately, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by using common sense and taking good care of yourself:


Most often, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until the damage to your eyes is severe, making it very important that diabetics have routine eye exams with dilated retinal exams.

  • Blurred vision and gradual vision loss can indicate that fluid is collecting in the macula, referred to as macular edema.
  • Floaters
  • Shadows or missing areas of vision
  • Difficulty seeing at nighttime
  • Double vision may occur when the nerves controlling the eye muscles are affected.


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