Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes mellitus that eventually affects the vision after a long duration of disease. Usually, there are no symptoms of diabetic retinopathy that is in the early stages, meaning the condition is often not detected until it has progressed to a more severe stage.
If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy may lead to a sudden and complete loss of vision that is irreversible.
Some of the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:
"Floaters" or seeing floating shapes in the visual field
Difficulty seeing in dim light or at night
Sudden loss of vision
Stages of diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy progresses in stages until it leads to a complete loss of vision or blindness. These stages include:
Stage 1: During this stage, the small blood vessels of the retina develop tiny aneurysms or balloon-like swellings. These can rupture and leak blood into the retina which may cause blurring of vision. This stage is called background retinopathy.
Stage 2: During stage 2, angiogenesis or the formation of new small blood vessels may occur in the retina. These are brittle and friable vessels that may also rupture and cause bleeding in the retina and blurred vision. This stage is referred to as pre-proliferative retinopathy.
Stage 3: The macula is a highly sensitive part of the retina that provides us with central vision. In stage 3, the macula is affected, which severely impairs vision. This is referred to as diabetic maculopathy.
Stage 4: This stage is characterized by new blood vessels, scars and aneurysms having formed all over the retina, leading to a complete loss of vision. The retina may also detach from the blood vessels at this stage and this is referred to as retinal detachment.
Screening for diabetic retinopathy
Since there are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, regular eye check-ups are important for patients with diabetes. All diabetes patients aged 12 years or over are advised to attend eye check-ups once a year.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc