Diabetic Retinopathy 101

Photo by Dan & Mary

Photo by Dan & Mary

I‘ve already discussed the huge effect diabetic retinopathy has on the diabetic patient population. It’s equally important to understand the ins and outs of this disease, and thanks to the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, we have a lot of insight on how this disease progresses, in addition to the latest treatment options.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

An unfortunate result of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is due to the damage of the small blood vessels that nourish the retina.

The Four Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

There are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, and there may be no impact on your vision until the disease progresses much further. The earliest stage is called mild nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, during which microaneursyms develop in the retina’s blood vessels. The next stage is moderate nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, when some of the retina’s blood vessels become blocked. During severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, the prevalence of blocked blood vessels results in a serious deprivation of blood supply throughout the retina. In the final stage, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the retina’s signals for blood vessel renourishment result in the growth of abnormal blood vessels along the surface of the eye. During proliferative diabetic retinopathy, blood begins to leak into the center of the eye, resulting in blurred vision.

Macular Edema

Macular edema is an additional cause for vision loss, which can develop at any stage of diabetic retinopathy. The condition develops when the microaneurysms become leaky, causing excess fluids in the retina to become swollen, leading to decreased vision in the central part of the retina.

Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser surgery or traditional surgery. Photocoagulation can be used as a process that uses a laser to seal leaking blood vessels, however primary mechanism of action is to reduce the oxygen demand by ablating the photoreceptors to match with the reduced blood flow which result in the reduced oxygen supply.  Virectomy is an operation during which a doctor uses a suction tool to take out the vitreous jelly that develops inside the eye and replaces the vitreous with new fluid.

Treatments for diabetic retinopathy are still being explored. Next week, I’ll discuss what Acucela is doing to take treatment for this serious condition to the next level.

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