What Is Diabetic retinopathy? Part II

If you read the previous article describing why it is difficult for cappilaries to accomodate blood with elevated sugar levels you will understand the potential for dammage within any part of the bodies circulatory system.

There are 4 stages to diabetic retinopathy.

The US N.E.I. (National Eye Institute ) Website lists them as follows:

“Stage 1.  Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy. At this earliest stage, microaneurysms occur. They are small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina’s tiny blood vessels.

Stage 2.  Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy. As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.

Stage 3. Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy. Many more blood vessels are blocked, depriving several areas of the retina with their blood supply. These areas of the retina send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment.

Stage 4. Proliferative Retinopathy. At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called proliferative retinopathy. These new blood vessels are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. By themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness can result.”

There are 2 ways in which one’s vision may be effected due to diabetic retinopathy.

As stated from the US N.E.I Website:

“1.  Fragile, abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak blood into the center of the eye, blurring vision. This is proliferative retinopathy and is the fourth and most advanced stage of the disease.

2.  Fluid can leak into the center of the macula, the part of the eye where sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This condition is called macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses. About half of the people with proliferative retinopathy also have macular edema.”

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition caused by blood that has high sugar levels passing through the tiny capilaries in the eye.

Blood with high sugar levels is thick and has trouble passing through the tiny capilaries and can cause major dammage.

To illustrate think about water in a container.

If we add just a little amount of sugar into water it’s hard to notice much of a difference in how the water pours out of a the container. But if we add more and more sugar to that water eventually the water gets thick and syrupy and has trouble moving from one place to another.

This is similar to what happens with the blood of a person with diabetes.

Because a diabetic person does not process sugars properly, the amount of sugar in their blood, if not controlled (this can be done in various ways), will continue to rise over normal levels and their blood becomes thick (kind of like syrup).

So how does this hurt the eyes?

Our bodies have many tiny little capilaries. You can find these capilaries in high concentrations in certain parts of the body and one such place is the eyes.

Let’s go back to the illustration of syrup and water but this time let’s think about taking that syrup and pumping it through a network of hoses. You can probably see where this is going.

While large hoses would seemingly not have much trouble accomodating the thick syrup (in the body there are still complications although not as noticeable at first) imagine tiny hoses trying to accomodate circulating the same thick syrup.

It just won’t work properly.

Think of your body as the network of hoses.

The big arteries can accomodate the flow better (that doesn’t mean it’s good for the body) than the tiny cappilaries just can’t take it well. This is why diabetics will many tiomes experience nerve dammage in their extremities (lots of cappilaries there).

In our eyes we don’t have the same nerve ending as our dingers, toes, etc and so diabetics will not experience the tingling sensation that they might get from nerve dammage.

Now think about the sugar in the blood forcing it’s way through those tiny capillaries…you can imagine that this might cause significant dammage and in many cases blockages.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease in diabetics and is the main overall cause of adult blindness in the US.

For a more detailed description of what happens click here.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Some Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy:

Some symptoms that may indicate a problem are itchy eyes, seeing spots after periods of exercise, or other movement outside your normal routine.

Another sure sign is the appearance of blood floating inside the eye in something called the vitreous gel. This floading mass will be noticeable to the affected person only (as opposed to people casually observing your eyes).

However, most of the time there will be little to no noticable signs that manifest themselves in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.

All diabetics should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam on a yearly basis preferabley from a specialist.

Diabetics in every age group of both type 1 and type 2 are at risk for retinopathy and should be sure to take the threat of blindness from diabetic retinopathy very seriously.