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Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms, Stages and Treatment

Although people diagnosed with Diabetes need to be extra cautious about their overall health and fitness, certain aspects are bound to be ignored given the numerous complications this illness brings along. While everyone is aware that blood sugar levels have to be regularly monitored in order to remain in control of your health, effects of Diabetes extend beyond that.

Consistently disturbed blood glucose levels also affect the eyes and in fact damages the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissues at the back of the eyes (retina). Diabetes Retinopathy stages vary to a great extent but unfortunately there are no visible symptoms during the initial phase. This means Diabetic Retinopathy remains undiagnosed till the time condition becomes severe.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

For a long time, symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy remain unidentifiable and when they actually begin to show, the disease has already acquired quite an advanced stage.

The symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy, which usually affect both eyes, include the following:

  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing black spots or dark strings floating in your vision
  • Impaired colour vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Dark or empty areas in vision
  • Loss of vision

Diabetes Retinopathy stages involve gradual development of the disease, which also means there are no immediate causes leading to this complication of the eyes.

Let us understand the causes of Diabetes Retinopathy to brainstorm about the solutions later.

When your blood sugar levels remain high for a long time, the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina can become blocked, thereby cutting the blood supply. This makes the eyes attempt to grow new blood vessels which unfortunately don’t grow properly and begin to leak.

The following are the Diabetic Retinopathy Stages:

  • Early Diabetic Retinopathy

More commonly known as Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR), this type of Retinopathy is the stage where in new blood vessels are not growing. During this stage, the blood vessels in your retina weaken and tiny bulges protrude from the vessel walls, that sometime leads to leakage of blood and fluid into the retina. The larger vessels begin to dilate and become irregular in diameter.

This stage can transform into a severe one as more retinal blood vessels become blocked. At this stage, nerve fibres within the retina begin to swell and even the central part of the retina swells, thus worsening the condition. Immediate medical help must be sought in such a scenario.

  • Advanced Diabetic Retinopathy

Having progressed further, Diabetes Retinopathy reaches this severe stage known as Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy, wherein the damaged blood vessels close completely due to extensive blockage. New and abnormal retinal blood vessels begin to grow and can leak into the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye.

The new blood vessels can detach the retina from the back of the eye. Pressure builds in the eyeball, increasing the risk of damage to the nerve (optic nerve) that carries images from the eye to the brain, resulting in glaucoma.

Diabetic Retinopathy – Facts and Studies

Studies have concluded that more than 2.5 million people worldwide are affected by Diabetic Retinopathy. The severity of this condition can be understood from the fact that Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in adults between the age group 20-65 years. Studies have also concluded that people with a long history of diabetes have a higher chance of acquiring Diabetic Retinopathy than those who have been recently diagnosed with Diabetes.

According to the all India Ophthalmological Society Diabetic Retinopathy Eye Screening Study 2014, people who were diagnosed with Diabetes within the last 6 months or less had 9.23 prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy. Those with prevalence of Diabetes for 6 months to 5 years have 15.12 prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy. However, those who had a long history of Diabetes – five years or more – were at a greater risk of developing Diabetic Retinopathy, that is, 35.12.

Are You At Risk?

Merely having Diabetes is enough to put you at risk of Diabetic Retinopathy. But being diabetic is not the sole contributing factor for developing Diabetic Retinopathy. The following factors aggravate your risks further and take you closer to vision damage:

  • Poor blood glucose control
  • High protein content in urine
  • High blood pressure
  • Prolonged diabetes
  • Increased levels of  fats (triglycerides) in the blood

While these factors are generally harmful for your overall health, they are particularly known to aggravate the risks of worsening your diabetic condition and ultimately increase the risk of inviting complications related to eyes or retina in particular.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

While knowing about the symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy and about Diabetic Retinopathy stages is the first step towards acquiring a proactive approach, discontinuing mid-way should be the last thing on your mind.

Although Diabetic Retinopathy is mainly unavoidable, being proactive towards your Diabetic condition can prove beneficial in timely assessment of this eye condition. The following tips will help you prevent or prolong the onset of Diabetic Retinopathy:

  • Keep a check on your blood glucose levels by following a healthy diet and lifestyle, including physical activity of about 150 minutes every week. And don’t forget to be regular with your prescribed medication.
  • Monitor and track your blood sugar levels by frequently taking the readings and maintaining a record. Ask your doctor about the ideal frequency of these testing.
  • HbA1c is the most beneficial test for identifying the pattern and average of your blood sugar levels over the last three months. The ideal healthy target level of HbA1c is below 7 percent.
  • Lose weight as it also helps keep your blood pressure under control. Eat healthy and exercise regularly to reduce your dependency on medication.
  • Quit smoking or consuming tobacco in any other form. Tobacco complicates your diabetic condition to a great extent and even increases the risk of Diabetic Retinopathy.
  • Be extra cautious of any changes in your vision. Contact an eye specialist right away if you notice blurry, spotty eyesight.

Points To Remember

As a wrap up, the following points of reference can be remembered along with Diabetic Retinopathy stages and symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy.

  • Apart from Diabetic Retinopathy, various other eye diseases affect people with Diabetes. These include Diabetic Macular Edema (DME), Cataract, and Glaucoma.
  • Irrespective of the stage of onset, all diabetic eye diseases have the potential to result in complete vision loss. The risk increases if the condition is left untreated.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss among other eye diseases for diabetics.
  • DME can be better understood as a consequence of Diabetic Retinopathy causing swelling in the area of the retina called the macula.
  • Preventing vision loss caused due to Diabetic Retinopathy is possible with early detection, timely treatment and continuous follow-up.
  • It is possible to cure this condition by understanding the Diabetic Retinopathy stages and symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy and of course by using several therapies together in combination or separately.
  • Getting tested for Diabetic Retinopathy need not be as frequent as your blood tests are. An yearly examination by your ophthalmologist along with relevant guidance is good enough. If you have been diagnosed with the disease after your doctor noticed symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy, diligently follow your doctor’s advice on further investigations and treatment. The frequency of tests post diagnosis depends on the severity of your condition.

Following an informed and responsible approach towards maintaining healthy blood glucose levels is the first step towards postponing the onset of Diabetic Retinopathy. For this to be possible, it is important to understand the symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Retinopathy stages. While your doctor will do everything they can to keep you within the safe diabetic zone, no one can understand your condition better than yourself. Hence, stay healthy, eat healthy and feel empowered to live a life with Diabetes.

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