Diabetic Retinopathy, or complications of the eyes in people with diabetes, when detected early can reduce severe visual loss by 60%.
With the recent increase in the life span of diabetics, the prevalence of retinopathy has also increased. It is now the most common cause of blindness under age 65 and the most common cause of new blindness in the United States. Many risk factors have been associated with the development of retinopathy, but the duration of the diabetes is the most important single risk factor.
Patients with diabetes for four years or less have a 15% prevalence of retinopathy, whereas patients with diabetes for 15 or more years have a 90% prevalence of retinopathy.
Uncontrolled blood sugar can damage the small vessels in the retina. The retina is the inner lining of the eye that is responsible for receiving light and then converting it to signals that the brain can interpret into vision. Small bulges called microaneurysms can arise and cause the vessels to leak fluid into nearby retinal tissue. This, in turn, causes swelling (edema) and can affect the central part of the retina called the macula. Macular edema needs diagnosed and treated in order to preserve vision.