Diabetic retinopathy

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:46 pm
Diabetes can damage your blood vessels, particularly the tiny vessels that feed your eyes. When the retina is affected, this is known as diabetic retinopathy (ret-in-OP-ah-thee). There are two main categories of retinopathy: non-proliferative (non-pro-LIFF-er-uh-tiv) and proliferative. Most diabetics will eventually have non-proliferative retinopathy, in which small capillaries swell up. This may cause the retina to enlarge with fat and fluid, but typically, there's no impairment of vision, and no treatment is required. Over time, retinopathy may advance to a more severe form, called proliferative retinopathy, in which injured blood vessels completely close down. To compensate, your body develops new vessels in the retina, but these fragile structures often leak blood, causing vision problems. They may also create scar tissue that pushes the retina out of place, a disorder known as retinal detachment. Unfortunately, a great deal of retinal damage can occur before you have any symptoms. Laser surgery may help, but only if the condition is caught early. That's why you need regular eye exams by a specialist, even when you feel fine. Other steps to reduce your risk of serious retinopathy include controlling blood sugar levels, keeping blood pressure down, and not smoking. Consult a doctor at the first sign of trouble, such as blurry vision; eye pain, pressure, or redness; or seeing floating spots or flashes of light.

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