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Diabetic Retinopathy


Diabetic retinopathy (DR)

is eye damage caused by long-term high blood sugar levels. The walls of the blood vessels in the retina weaken and leak blood. This causes swelling and vision problems. Over time, new, weak blood vessels grow, leak blood, and cover the center of the retina. DR can lead to blindness.

Lateral cut-away of the Right Eye

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing red or black wavy lines that look like a curtain or spider web
  • Seeing light flashes or red, black, or grey floating spots (floaters)
  • Vision loss

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You suddenly cannot see.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your blurred vision gets worse, or you start to see double.
  • You see more floating spots.
  • You see dark spots.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


may not be needed if you have mild DR. Healthcare providers will check your eyes regularly to monitor the damage to your retinas. If you have severe DR, you may need surgery to slow or stop the disease. Laser treatment may slow DR and prevent blindness. This treatment shrinks the new blood vessels and seals the areas that have leaks. Surgery called a vitrectomy may be done if there is bleeding in the vitreous that does not clear. The vitreous is the gel-like material that fills the inside of the eye.

Prevent DR:

  • Control your blood sugar. Keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. You may need to check your blood sugar levels 3 times each day.
    How to check your blood sugar
  • Get your eyes checked at least once each year. Your eye doctor may want to see you every 6 months or more often. If you are pregnant, get your eyes checked during the first 13 weeks of your pregnancy. You will need frequent eye exams during pregnancy and for 1 year after you give birth.
  • Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your blood pressure should be 140/90 mmHg or lower. You may need lab tests that measure the amount of cholesterol in your blood. You may need to make lifestyle changes and take medicines to control your blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Exercise regularly. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. He or she will tell you how to control your blood sugar when you exercise. You may need to check your blood sugar more often during exercise. Bring a snack with you when you exercise in case your blood sugar gets too low.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels in your eyes and make it more difficult to manage your diabetes. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.

Follow up with your healthcare provider or eye specialist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.