Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

July 28, 2021 — by Thomas Byrd, MD
Tags: Stages Of Diabetic Retinopathy

effects of diabetic retinopathyDiabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that affects individuals suffering from diabetes. In diabetic patients, glucose is not absorbed properly by the cells of the body, due to poor insulin production or misuse of the hormone. This results in high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina, resulting in diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive eye disease that can eventually lead to vision loss. Here, eye doctor Thomas Byrd goes over the stages of diabetic retinopathy, and helps his patients in Detroit, Dearborn Heights, and Lincoln Park, MI, understand how the eyes are impacted as this disease becomes more advanced.

Mild Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

At the earliest stage of diabetic retinopathy, the effects of the disease are mild. The blood vessels in the retina should not have suffered extensive damage at this point, but there may be areas of mild swelling. These areas of swelling in the retina are called micro aneurysms. In some, but not all, cases of mild nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, a small amount of fluid may leak into the retina. These fluids can cause mild swelling of the macula, which is the center of the retina.

Moderate Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

As diabetic retinopathy advances to the second stage of the disease, swelling in the blood vessels of the retina becomes more pronounced. As swelling increases, blood flow is likely to be compromised. This can prevent essential nutrients from reaching the retina. As swelling progresses it is also more likely that fluids and blood will leak, or hemorrhage, from the vessels, resulting in an accumulation of fluids in the macula. These fluids can lead to the formation of small lesions in the retina, also known as hard exudates and cotton wool spots.

Severe Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

At the third stage of diabetic retinopathy swelling of the blood vessels is so severe that it significantly restricts blood flow to parts of the retina. Decreased blood flow limits the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the retina. At this stage of the disease the brain receives signals to start developing new blood vessels in the retina.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

At the most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, the disease goes from nonproliferative to proliferative. At proliferative diabetic retinopathy new blood vessels form in the retina. New blood vessels are fragile, which means they are more likely to leak fluid, further increasing the occurrence of small lesions in the retina.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy causes a lot of changes in the eye. Surprisingly, while the inner eye continues to be affected, most patients do not experience any symptoms of this disease until it has progressed to stage four, or proliferative diabetic retinopathy. At its most advanced stage, diabetic retinopathy can cause symptoms such as:

  • Blurry vision
  • Floaters in the field of vision
  • Decreased field of vision
  • Difficulty with night vision
  • Diminished colors
  • Vision loss

Because diabetic retinopathy does not produce symptoms in its earlier stages, it is especially important that people schedule routine eye exams. A comprehensive eye exam can detect diabetic retinopathy in its beginning stages, when it can be better controlled.

Contact Byrd & Wyandotte Eye Clinic

Comprehensive eye exams are an essential diagnostic tool, and one of the best ways to preserve eye health and vision. If you are due for a routine eye exam, we invite you to schedule an appointment at the Byrd & Wyandotte Eye Clinic. To get started, send us a message online at your earliest convenience, or call (734) 284-2444.

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