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4 Complications of Diabetic Retinopathy

4 Complications of Diabetic Retinopathy

Doctors often remind people with diabetes that complications may occur. Prolonged, uncontrolled high blood sugar levels may, for instance, affect vision — a condition called diabetic retinopathy. What’s even more concerning is that diabetic retinopathy has complications of its own. In this article, we’ll focus on the complications of diabetic retinopathy.

An Overview of Diabetic Retinopathy

Before we talk about the complications of diabetic retinopathy, let’s first define the condition.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that occurs when prolonged high blood glucose causes damage to the small blood vessels of the retina (light-sensitive tissue behind the eye).

You see, when a patient experiences high blood sugar for a long period, fluid can accumulate in the lens, the part of the eyes that controls focus. This accumulation of fluid can change the curvature of the lens and cause temporary vision problems.

With prolonged and frequent hyperglycemia, fluid may leak in the retina, causing swelling and compromising blood flow. To compensate, new blood vessels may form. But these new blood vessels are weak. They may burst and leak blood into the eyes, blocking vision.

Complications of Diabetic Retinopathy

Now that we understand diabetic retinopathy better, let’s talk about its complications.

Vitreous Hemorrhage

The new, fragile blood vessels may bleed into the vitreous humor, the gel-like structure that helps with vision clarity. A little bleeding may only result in floaters, but severe cases may trigger a complete block of vision.

The good news is, vitreous humor hemorrhage doesn’t usually cause vision loss. The blood clears within weeks and months, and the issue with clarity resolves — unless, of course, the retina has been damaged.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is also one of the complications of diabetic retinopathy. It occurs when new blood vessels develop in front of the eyes (iris), disturbing the normal blood circulation and adding pressure to the eye. As a result, the optic nerve is damaged.

Retinal Detachment

Another of the complications of diabetic retinopathy is retinal detachment. This happens when the blood vessels cause scar tissue to develop. The scar then pulls the retina away from its original position.

Some of the symptoms of retinal detachment are:

  • A sudden increase in floaters (small spots or squiggly lines in your vision)
  • Flashes of light
  • A curtain of shadow in your vision

Blindness

Finally, when diabetic retinopathy and its complications are not managed, blindness may occur.

How To Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy

There are steps you can take to prevent diabetic retinopathy altogether. Generally, you need to work closely with your doctor to:

1. Reach your blood sugar targets.

The longer and more often you experience hyperglycemia, the more likely you’ll develop diabetic retinopathy. Hence, it’s crucial that you reach your target blood sugar whenever possible.

2. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Cholesterol and blood pressure also affect circulation in the eyes. Talk to your doctor about how you can better manage your BP and cholesterol. Depending on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the doctor might suggest lifestyle changes or prescribe medicines.

3. Avoid or quit smoking.

Cigarette smoking damages the blood vessels and increases the risk for the complications of diabetic retinopathy. If you have difficulty quitting smoking, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.

4. Monitor your health.

Visit your doctor regularly and take any necessary tests you need for diagnosis of any complications that may arise from diabetes.

5. Pay special attention to your vision.

Finally, pay special attention to your vision. The moment you experience new or unexplained symptoms, such as floaters or vision loss, get in touch with your doctor.

Key Takeaways

The complications of diabetic retinopathy include vitreous hemorrhage, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and blindness. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent diabetic retinopathy altogether. Primarily you must work with your doctor to manage your diabetes, BP, and cholesterol. You must also avoid or quit smoking and show up to your appointments and tests.

Learn more about Diabetes Complications here.


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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Apr 06
Fact Checked by Vincent Sales