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Diabetic retinopathy

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Diabetes Complications

Retinopathy is the medical term for damage to the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish the retina, the tissue at the back of your eye that captures light and relays information to your brain. These blood vessels are often affected by the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes.


You can take steps to slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Control your blood sugar. Tight control of blood sugar slows the onset and progression of retinopathy and lessens the need for surgery. Tight control means keeping your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Ideally, this means levels between 90 and 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) before meals and less than 180 mg/dL two hours after starting a meal — with a glycated hemoglobin level less than 7 percent.

  • Tight control isn't possible for everyone, including some older adults, young children and people with cardiovascular disease. Talk to your doctor, your endocrinologist or diabetes educator about the best blood sugar control goals and management plan for you. A management plan frequently involves taking insulin or other medications, monitoring blood sugar levels, following a healthy eating plan, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

  • It may take some time before the benefits of lowering your blood sugar are realized. And remember that better control lowers but doesn't eliminate your risk of developing retinopathy.

  • Keep an eye on vision changes. In addition to getting an annual eye exam, be alert to any sudden changes in your vision. Have your eyes checked promptly if you experience vision changes that last more than a few days or aren't associated with a change in blood sugar, or if your vision becomes blurry, spotty or hazy.

  • Keep your blood pressure down. Lowering blood pressure may slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. To reduce your blood pressure, you may need to take medications or make lifestyle changes.

  • Stop smoking. Smoking is especially bad for people with diabetes because it promotes the closure of blood vessels.

  • Control stress. Stress can cause swings in blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Stress may affect your ability to control your blood sugar, for example, you may be too busy to exercise or eat a good meal. Stress hormones also can directly affect your blood sugar levels, causing them to rise or fall. Don't hesitate to seek help from a counselor, therapist or support group to control your stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation also may be helpful.

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