Back to Diabetes Basics Retinopathy

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Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the small blood vessels of the retina of the eye. When retinopathy first starts, the tiny blood vessels in the retina become swollen, and they leak a little fluid into the center of the retina. The person's sight may be blurred. This condition is called background retinopathy. About 80 percent of people with background retinopathy never have serious vision problems, and the disease never goes beyond this first stage.

However, if retinopathy progresses, the harm to sight can be more serious. Many new, tiny blood vessels grow out and across the eye. This is called neovascularization. The vessels may break and bleed into the clear gel that fills the center of the eye, blocking vision. Scar tissue may also form near the retina, pulling it away from the back of the eye. This stage is called proliferative retinopathy, and it can lead to impaired vision and even blindness.

Retinal Photographs

21 year old patient.
Duration of Diabetes: 10 years.
No retinopathy is present.
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Mild Retinopaty
45 year old patient.
Duration of Diabetes: 23 years.
Modified non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy with early diabetic macular edema is present.
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Advanced Retinopaty
25 year old patient.
Duration of Diabetes: 15 years.
Early conversion to proliferative diabetic retinopathy with a marked cotton wool spot and venous engorgement.
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28 year old patient.
Duration of Diabetes: 21 years.
Advanced diabetic retinopathy with an pre-retinal hemorrhage nasal to the optic nerve. Laser scars are also evident.
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After Laser Treatment
31 year old patient.
Duration of Diabetes: 26 years.
Laser scars and an epiretinal membrane (white spider web looking membrane in the lower right hand corner)
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For Additional Information

Retinal photos courtesy of Dr. William Jackson, Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, Denver, Colorado.

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