People with diabetes are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar levels.
There are three types of diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes: usually diagnosed in children and young adults and previously known as juvenile diabetes, where the body does not produce insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes: the most common form of diabetes. Either the body does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells ignore the insulin.
- Gestational diabetes: blood sugar levels (glucose) become elevated during pregnancy in women who have never had diabetes before. Gestational diabetes starts when the mother's body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs during pregnancy.
People with any type of diabetes can develop hyperglycemia, which is an excess of blood sugar, or serum glucose. Although glucose is a vital source of energy for the body's cells, a chronic elevation of serum glucose causes damage throughout the body, including the small blood vessels in the eyes.
Diabetic retinopathy risk factors
Several factors can influence the development and severity of diabetic retinopathy, including:
- Blood sugar levels
Controlling your blood sugar is the key risk factor that you can affect. Lower blood sugar levels can delay the onset and slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
- Blood pressure
A major clinical trial demonstrated that effectively controlling blood pressure reduces the risk of retinopathy progression and visual acuity deterioration. High blood pressure damages your blood vessels, raising the chances for eye problems. Target blood pressure for most people with diabetes is less than 130/80 mmHg.
- Duration of diabetes
The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy or having your disease progress increases over time. After 15 years, 80 percent of Type 1 patients will have diabetic retinopathy. After 19 years, up to 84 percent of patients with Type 2 diabetes will have diabetic retinopathy.
- Blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides)
Elevated blood lipid levels can lead to greater accumulation of exudates, protein deposits that leak into the retina. This condition is associated with a higher risk of moderate visual loss.
While diabetic retinopathy can happen to anyone with diabetes, certain ethnic groups are at higher risk because they are more likely to have diabetes. These include African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
Being pregnant can cause changes to your eyes. If you have diabetes and become pregnant, your risk for diabetic retinopathy increases. If you already have diabetic retinopathy, it may progress. However, some studies have suggested that with treatment these changes are reversed after you give birth and that there is no increase in long-term progression of the disease.
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