This blog aims to provide a comprehensive overview of diabetic retinopathy, focusing on the initial symptoms and stages of the disease.
Estimates for the UK are that the number of people with Type 2 diabetes will rise to 5.5 million people by 2030, affecting almost 9% of the population.
Risk factors include being overweight, ethnicity, family history and diet quality. The number of people who are overweight around the middle is increasing and, with this, their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases. Type 2 is the type usually adult onset and is controlled by diet and tablets. Type 1 is in younger individuals and is treated with insulin.
Both diabetes Type 2 and Type 1 are on the increase, with ever younger people becoming affected. With diabetes comes eventual cardiovascular and eye problems, particularly if the weight, blood sugar levels and blood pressure are not kept under strict control. The eye signs often go undetected for many years and gradually creep upon the unsuspecting diabetic. If you have diabetes, you are at risk of diabetic retinopathy, and the longer you are diabetic, the greater the risk.
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication of diabetes that affects the eyes, specifically the retina. It is essential to understand this condition’s early signs and stages to seek timely medical intervention and prevent vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive eye disease caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The retina is a thin layer of tissue located at the back of the eye, responsible for converting light into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain for visual interpretation. Diabetes, particularly when poorly controlled, can lead to high levels of blood sugar, which can damage the small blood vessels supplying the retina.
In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy may not exhibit any noticeable symptoms. However, there are some initial signs that individuals should be aware of, including:
Diabetic retinopathy progresses through four stages, each with distinct characteristics:
In this initial stage, microaneurysms, small bulges in the blood vessels, appear on the retina. These may leak blood or fluid, causing the retinal tissue to swell. Many patients with Type 2 diabetes have small microvascular changes whoch need to be detected.
As the disease advances, the blood vessels that nourish the retina may become blocked, leading to inadequate blood supply. The retina sends signals to the body to grow new blood vessels. People with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can reach this stage.
In this stage, a significant number of blood vessels become blocked, depriving the retina of oxygen. Consequently, the retina may signal the body to generate even more new blood vessels. This predominantly affects people with Type 1 diabetes.
This is the most advanced stage, marked by the growth of fragile and abnormal blood vessels. These vessels are prone to leakage and can cause severe damage to the retina, leading to vision loss. This predominantly affects people with Type 1 diabetes.
If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, or suspect you may have diabetic retinopathy, it is crucial to seek prompt medical attention. Early detection allows for timely intervention, reducing the risk of vision loss. An ophthalmologist with a special interest in the retina can perform a comprehensive eye examination, including the dilation of pupils and imaging diagnostic tests to evaluate the retina’s condition.
Understanding the early signs and stages of diabetic retinopathy is vital for individuals with diabetes to safeguard their vision. Regular eye exams, along with effective diabetes management, are essential in preventing and managing this potentially sight-threatening condition. By recognising the initial symptoms and seeking appropriate medical care, individuals can take proactive steps towards preserving their visual health and overall.
If you have diabetes, type 1 or 2, you should look after your retina by having a Retinal Diagnostic Screening at Clinica London by one of our dedicated Retinal Specialists; Professor Michel Michalides, Ms Evgenia Anikina, Mr Julian Robins and Ms Stacey Strong. They will carry out the necessary imaging, laser treatment, intravitreal injection or vitrectomy surgery.
It is important for individuals with diabetes to have regular eye examinations by an ophthalmologist retinal specialist to detect and manage diabetic retinopathy in its early stages. Maintaining good blood sugar control, managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding smoking can help reduce the risk and slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Remember, if you or someone you know has diabetes, it is important to regularly monitor blood sugar levels and undergo regular eye and retina examinations to detect and manage diabetic retinopathy at the earliest stage possible.
In order to make an appointment to see one of Clinica London´s Retinal Specialists, call 020 7935 7990