Diabetes is a disease that affects blood vessels throughout the body, particularly vessels in the kidneys and eyes. When the blood vessels in the eyes are affected, this is called diabetic retinopathy.
The retina is the thin layer that lines the back of the eye. It detects visual images and transmits them to the brain. Major blood vessels lie on the front portion of the retina. When these blood vessels are damaged due to diabetes, they may leak fluid or blood and grow scar tissue. This leakage affects the ability of the retina to detect and transmit images.
During the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, reading vision is typically not affected. However, when retinopathy becomes advanced, new blood vessels grow in the retina. These new vessels are the body's attempt to overcome and replace the vessels that have been damaged by diabetes. However, these new vessels are not normal. They may bleed and cause the vision to become hazy, occasionally resulting in a complete loss of vision. The growth of abnormal blood vessels on the iris of the eye can lead to glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy can also cause your body to form cataracts more quickly.
The new vessels also may damage the retina by forming scar tissue and pulling the retina away from its proper location. This is called a retinal detachment and can lead to blindness if left untreated.Diabetes is a disease that prevents your body from making or using insulin to break down sugar in your bloodstream. Approximately 16 million people in America (308,000 in Washington State) have diabetes, with an estimated one third of them unaware of it.