Living with diabetes blog

Preventing diabetic retinopathy

By Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N. and Peggy Moreland, R.N. February 4, 2012

According to the American Diabetes Association, if you have diabetes, you're at an increased risk of eye complications. Most people with diabetes will get some form of retinopathy, a disorder of the retina. Diabetes-related eye complications are the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

But preventing diabetic retinopathy and other eye complications is possible. One 10-year study showed that keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible prevented development of or slowed the progression of diabetic eye disease by more than 75 percent. And improving blood glucose levels can help even if blood glucose hasn't been controlled in the past.

Understanding diabetic retinopathy
The retina is the light sensitive tissue in the back of your eye. It works like a camera, taking a "picture" and sending that information to the brain via the optic nerve. Over time, high blood glucose causes the blood vessels in the eye to weaken. Eventually, the blood vessels leak into the retina. At this stage, most people don't have any symptoms.

Continued high blood sugar will cause further damage to the retinas. New blood vessels will grow on the retina, but they'll be weak and break open more easily. This will cause leaking of blood into the middle part of the eye, affecting vision. Bleeding can also cause scar tissue to form and the retina to pull away from the wall of the eye. If that isn't bad enough, retinopathy can also lead to swelling of the macula (macular edema), further worsening vision.

Several factors influence whether or not a person gets retinopathy. These include blood sugar control, blood pressure control, how long you've had diabetes, and genetics.

Preventing diabetic retinopathy and other eye complications
To prevent or slow diabetic retinopathy and other eye complications:

  • Control your blood sugar. Test your blood sugar on a regular basis, as recommended by your doctor. Keep a record of your blood glucose levels, and bring that record and your meter with you to your appointments. If you keep your blood sugar levels close to normal, you're less likely to get retinopathy. And, if you do get it, it's more likely to be a milder and more treatable form (nonproliferative retinopathy).
  • Keep your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure — common in adults with diabetes — not only increases your risk of eye problems, it also increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. High blood pressure increases the pressure of the blood vessels in the eye, causing weakened vessels to burst. Have your blood pressure checked regularly, and work with your doctor to keep it under control.
  • Keep your diabetes appointments. Don't miss your diabetes-related appointments, and don't forget to see your eye doctor. He or she will take a good look at the retina. The sooner retinopathy is detected and treated, the more successful treatment will be.

Have a good week.

Peggy

Feb. 04, 2012