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As a diabetic patient, it is important to be monitored yearly for changes in the retina. Prolonged high blood sugar levels may result in damage to blood vessels in the retina causing them to leak.
Diabetic retinopathy progresses from the early stage of the disease, known as non-proliferative, to the later stage, known as proliferative. In the non-proliferative stage, the blood vessels begin to leak, causing the retina to swell and produce blurry vision. If the disease progresses to the proliferative stage, both central and peripheral vision are affected. The blood vessels in the retina become weaker, carrying less oxygen and nutrients to the retinal tissue. In turn, the retina begins to grow abnormal new blood vessels which are fragile and hemorrhage easily. If left untreated, the bleeding will produce scarring and possible retinal detachment.
Because diabetic retinopathy often develops with few or no symptoms, many patients go undiagnosed and find themselves left with no treatment options by the time they discover the disease. Early detection is critical, which is why yearly dilated exams are recommended to all diabetic patients.