What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes which is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina).

The retina needs a constant supply of blood but persistently high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the eye, interrupting or even preventing the vital supply of oxygen and nutrients. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can, over time, cause permanent blindness.

There are three stages of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Background retinopathy: The blood vessels in the eye develop tiny swellings, which may leak fluid slightly but don’t usually affect vision.
  • Pre-proliferative retinopathy (also known as non-proliferative retinopathy): More severe and widespread changes affect the blood vessels in the eye, which are more likely to burst and bleed, as well as the development of abnormal, weak blood vessels and tiny specks of damage on the retina.
  • Proliferative retinopathy:  In this advanced stage, there is a proliferation of new and abnormal blood vessels in the eye and you may begin to notice loss of vision.