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Educate Yourself:  Diabetic Retinopathy

OCT image showing the cellular layers of the retina in cross-section

OCT image showing subtle retinal swelling due to diabetic retinopathy

The facts

Diabetic retinopathy is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States.  If you have diabetes, you should have a dilated examination of your retina at least once yearly to detect the early signs of retinopathy which may be present even if you do not notice pain or changes in your vision.  Excellent control of blood sugar is also very important.

In non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, damaged retinal blood vessels can leak and bleed, producing small hemorrhages in the retina and retinal swelling, which may or may not cause blurry vision.

In proliferative diabetic retinopathy, abnormal new blood vessels are formed on the surface of the retina.  Bleeding from these abnormal vessels may fill the eye up with blood causing sudden severe loss of vision.  Vision in this advanced stage of retinopathy may be relatively normal until such bleeding occurs.

Retinal imaging with optical coherence tomography (OCT) can detect subtle signs of retinal swelling and is important for managing treatment.

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy can improve or prevent vision loss and may require injection of medications into the eye, retinal laser treatment, or eye surgery.

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