How Does Diabetes Cause Blindness?


Diabetes Increases Risk of Eye Disease

  • Roughly 40% of people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have some form of diabetic retinopathy. Retinopathy refers to non-inflammatory damages to the retina of the eye, in most cases, due to problems with blood supply. The retina is a tissue located at the back of the eye and sensitive to light. Retinopathy leads to decreased vision and eventually blindness.
    Diabetics also has higher risk of other eye problems such as cataracts (loss of transparency in the eye lenses) and glaucoma (build-up of fluid pressure in the eye).

Early Retinopathy

  • Early retinopathy is also known as nonproliferative retinopathy.
    Poor blood sugar control in diabetic patients makes small blood vessels in the eye (called capillaries) become particularly fragile and develop weakened spots called micro aneurysms. Fluid is then leaked onto the macula, which is responsible for precise vision. This problem is referred to as macular edema. As the disease progresses, some of the damaged blood vessels are closed off, blocking the blood supply to parts of the retina. No new blood vessels grow during this stage of retinopathy.

Later Stage Retinopathy

  • During the later stages of retinopathy, new capillaries grow in the eye to supply blood to the areas that are damaged. This is why this later stage of retinopathy is often referred to as proliferative retinopathy.
    These new capillaries are very fragile. Bleeding from these new capillaries can severely reduce vision capacity and cause blindness. In some cases, bleeding can lead to retinal detachment and the retina is detached from the wall of the eye.

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopahy

  • According to the Wisconsin Epidemiologic Study of Diabetic Retinopathy (WESDR), 3.6% of type-1 diabetes and 1.6% type-2 diabetes were legally blind in the study.
    The main risk factor for developing diabetic retinopathy is the duration of diabetes. Among patients with type-1 diabetes in the WESDR study, 8% develop any form of diabetic retinopathy at 3 years after diagnosed with diabetes, 25% at 5 years and 80% at 15 years.
    On average, it takes 15 years to go from the first stage of diabetic to blindness if it is not properly treated.

Early Detection of Retinopathy Can Prevent Blindness

  • Early stage of retinopathy is treatable. If you have diabetes, you should have your eyes checked every year. If you have some difficulty seeing clearly, seek an ophthalmologist immediately. Good control of blood sugar levels, for instance through metformin use or lifestyle modifications, also prevents the onset and slows down the progression of retinopathy.

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