Diabetic Retinopathy: Your Risk Factors

If you have diabetes, what’s your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

Featured Image Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

What’s your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults.  

Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy, but your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases the longer you have diabetes.

According to the National Eye Institute, 2 in 5 Americans with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. But you can lower your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by controlling your blood sugar levels.

Women who develop gestational diabetes are at high risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. If you are diabetic and are pregnant, have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible. Ask your doctor if you will need additional eye exams during your pregnancy.

Major Risk Factors:

  • Long-duration of diabetes (10+ years)
  • Poor blood sugar and blood pressure control

Additional Risk Factors:

  • Becoming pregnant if you are diabetic or developing gestational diabetes during a pregnancy
  • Having diabetes and being African-American, Hispanic, or Native American
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

Complications 

Retinal detachment. Diabetic retinopathy causes an abnormal growth of blood vessels which can also produce scar tissue. The scar tissue can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This may cause spots that float in your vision, flashes of light, or a loss of vision. 

Glaucoma. The abnormal blood vessels may grow in the front part of your eye and interfere with the normal flow of fluid out of the eye and cause excessive eye pressure. Over time this pressure can damage the optic nerve that carries images from your eyes to your brain.

Vitreous hemorrhage. The abnormal blood vessels can also bleed into the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the center of your eye. If there is only a small amount of bleeding you will see a few dark spots (floaters). If the bleeding is severe it can fill the vitreous and block your vision.

Unless your retina is damaged, the blood will clear from your eye in a few weeks. The blood often clears from the eye within a few weeks or months. Unless your retina is damaged, your vision will return to normal.

Blindness. Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to complete vision loss.

Preventions

Control your blood sugar. You can help control your blood sugar by making healthy food choices and getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. That amount of exercise could be accomplished by taking a brisk 30-minute walk 5 times a week. Make sure you take any diabetes medication as directed.

Monitor your blood sugar. Ask your doctor how frequently you should test your blood sugar. You may need to do so several times a day.

Get an A1c test. The A1c test will show you and your doctor your average blood sugar level for a two-to-three-month period. This monitoring will help you learn if your diabetes has been under good control and help you and your doctor make beneficial changes to your diet or medications if needed.

Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and losing weight can help. You may also need some medications.

Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Regularly monitoring the health of your eyes allows your eye doctor to start treatment before in the early stage of diabetic retinopathy any complications develop.

Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and other complications of diabetes.  

If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us (877) 245.2020.

Nader Moinfar, M.D., M.P.H.
Retina Specialist
Orlando, FL

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