Diabetic Retinopathy in Northwest Arkansas

According to Diabetes Care Online, nearly all patients with type 1 diabetes and less than 60% of patients with type 2 diabetes develop retinopathy during their first two decades of having diabetes. At Retina Center of Arkansas, we believe it’s crucial for those in Northwest Arkansas suffering from diabetic retinopathy to stay informed about causes, symptoms, and other facts in order to stay as healthy as possible. Gain valuable knowledge about diabetic retinopathy on this page, directly from the desk of Dr. John T. DellaCroce.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in working-age Americans. The rates of blindness are similar between both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics. The damage from diabetes is from its effects on the blood vessels of the eye. Often, when the eye has damage from diabetes, other parts of the body are also suffering damage. Common systems that are affected by diabetes are the eyes, kidneys, heart, and peripheral vascular and nervous system.

There are three main ways diabetic retinopathy can affect the eyes:

  • Loss of blood flow
  • Leakage from blood vessels.
  • Growth of abnormal blood vessels.

These effects can manifest as three main disease categories of diabetic eye disease:

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), also known previously as Background Diabetic Retinopathy (BDR)
  • Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)
  • Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR).

NPDR (non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy)

This is an early stage of diabetic eye disease. Many people with diabetes have this stage of retinopathy and may be unaware that it is present as it does not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages. It is important to recognize these changes with an annual eye exam as there is an opportunity to halt damage before it causes loss of sight. When you have NPDR the walls of your blood vessels in your retina weaken. When this happens, tiny bulges protrude from the walls of the smaller vessels, causing fluid to leak blood into the retina. For some, this retinal damage leads to fluid (edema) buildup in the center portion (macula) of the retina. If macular edema decreases your vision, seek medical attention right away to avoid permanent vision loss.

PDR (proliferative diabetic retinopathy)

PDR is a more advanced stage of diabetic eye disease. The defining feature in this stage of diabetic retinopathy is the growth of abnormal new blood vessels (neovascularization). These blood vessels grow in response to poor circulation. Neovascular vessels are fragile and bleed easily, often causing bleeding into the eye’s vitreous fluid (vitreous hemorrhage). Vitreous is typically a clear gel-like fluid that fills the inside of the eye and lets light pass through easily. When bleeding occurs in the vitreous (vitreous hemorrhage), the patient often notices it as dark floaters. As these abnormal blood vessels continue to grow over time, they will form scar tissue that can pull on the retina and cause retinal detachment in later stages.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

It is not uncommon not to have any symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. However, as your condition progress, you may begin to show these symptoms:

  • Spots or dark strings floating in your vision
  • Vision loss
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Dark or empty areas in your vision

Contact an eye specialist immediately if your vision suddenly changes or becomes blurry.

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar due to diabetes. Over time, high sugar levels in your blood can lead to blockage of the tiny blood vessels that bring life to the retina, cutting off its blood supply and damaging your retina. Once this happens, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels. Often, these blood vessels don’t develop properly and can begin to leak.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

Anyone with diabetes can also develop diabetic retinopathy. The following may increase your risk of developing this eye condition:

  • Poor control of your blood sugar level
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco use
  • Being Black, Hispanic, or Native American
  • High blood pressure

Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy

A dilated eye exam and specialized scanning of the macula with Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and evaluation of the retinal circulation with a test called Fluorescein Angiography (FA) are the best procedures to diagnose and stage diabetic retinopathy.

If you’re suffering from diabetic retinopathy, contact the experts at Retina Center of Arkansas to schedule your appointment today.

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